Editorial: Time will heal Waitangi Day grievances

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A large group heads toward the Waitangi treaty grounds after lunch during Waitangi Day celebrations in the Bay of Islands. File photo / Greg Bowker
A large group heads toward the Waitangi treaty grounds after lunch during Waitangi Day celebrations in the Bay of Islands. File photo / Greg Bowker

Buddy Mikaere's call to reclaim Waitangi Day, published today, deserves to be taken seriously by everyone.

Few can doubt that his vision is desirable and his specific ideas for the day could be achieved given the right set of circumstances.

The big sticking points are how and when will those circumstances arrive. To many the recent history in which the day has come to symbolise what divides rather us than unites us will suggest that Mr Mikaere's vision is all very well but has little chance of morphing into reality.

For decades it has been a lightning rod for protests and expressions of grievance and this year there is no great expectation that it will be any different, especially as it is being framed by a divisive political question over how the Treaty plays out in modern New Zealand; protections available under the part sale of the state energy companies to private interests.

The world-weary and the cynical do not have to look far to find evidence to support a pessimistic view.

It is far more likely the day will remain, for the time being at least, a day of ignorance, mediocrity and division with some people using it to publicise their grievances, others seeking to deny them and most turning their backs on it.

And yet the vision is not as hopeless as it might seem. For those old enough to remember, Anzac Day once occupied a place in the nation's calendar that was not unlike what Waitangi Day has become.

Intended to be a celebration of nationhood and honour, it was transformed into a social battleground because of tensions arising from New Zealand's participation in the Vietnam War.

The dividing line then was between young and old rather than Maori and Pakeha but it must have seemed to many that the wounds would never heal and the day would never become universally accepted.

But over time, attitudes did change and Anzac Day has become everything - and more - that the old timers hoped it would be - not just a commemoration of a particular battle fought long ago on foreign soil but a celebration of who we are.

There is no reason why a similar transformation could not happen with Waitangi Day given the right spirit.

It would not require us to pretend that everything was perfect and all discontent and divisions were forgotten and buried in the past.

Many of these grievances have been incubated over more than a century and resolving them will take time, as is made clear by Geoff Cumming's article on the Hauraki claim published as the main feature of our Review this weekend.

Such differences should not necessarily prevent the nation enjoying and celebrating itself in the way that Mr Mikaere envisages - the New Zealand honours coming out, addresses to the nation, the music, the art, the food.

But it is much more than just a matter of imposing a fresh programme by edict.

That's not how or why Anzac Day changed and it won't be how Waitangi Day changes.

Rather the impetus must come from the people taking an interest. Which is why Mr Mikaere emphasises that the people - we - should reclaim the day.

Despite all the obstacles it could happen. It should happen, just like Anzac Day.

- NZ Herald

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