Rodney Hide: So-called national day about fights and whines

Don Brash was the victim on this day at Waitangi. Photo / Getty Images
Don Brash was the victim on this day at Waitangi. Photo / Getty Images

The United States has the 4th of July, France has Bastille Day, and Australia, well, Australia has Australia Day.

And New Zealand? We have Waitangi Day. Try explaining Waitangi to an overseas visitor.

Anzac Day is easy. The bravery. The sacrifice. The waste. And the forging of a national identity.

That's clear. And we know what to do.

We take a solemn minute to remember those who went before and we take the day to celebrate and enjoy our freedom and our peace.

But Waitangi Day? What's that about?

There appears nothing to celebrate, be proud about, be inspired by, or to remember.

The powers-that-be have failed utterly to make Waitangi Day our National Day. It feels like a day that's been foisted on us, not a day that people want and need for celebration and remembrance.

The first Waitangi Day celebration was in 1934. That was after the Englishman Governor-General Lord Bledisloe gifted James Busby's house and 500ha to the nation. He and his wife also donated £500 to restore the Busby house, now known as Treaty House.

It was an extraordinarily generous gift from a remarkable man.

Lord Bledisloe also gave us the Bledisloe Cup to keep winning from the Wallabies.

The year 1934 was a one-off. It wasn't until 1947 that Waitangi Day became an annual event.

It wasn't a public holiday until 1974. It's all a very recent thing.

And that's where it is, sadly. Waitangi Day is just another day off. It's like Auckland Anniversary Day and Labour Day. The day off is nice but Anniversary Day and Labour Day don't carry much meaning or significance.

At least we know what happened on Waitangi Day but the truth is it does not mean that much. And what it does mean we don't much like.

It's easy to see why.

Waitangi Day isn't presented as a day for all of us. It's presented as a special day for Maori. In particular, it appears a day for special Maori to complain to Government. There doesn't seem to be much about the day for the rest of us, including most Maori.

Indeed, if anything, it appears that most of us should wander about for the day being very, very sorry for our failure to honour and respect the Treaty.

But we don't. That's because we don't feel sorry at all. So the day doesn't really work.

Besides, why should we be apologising and feeling sorry on what is supposed to be our national day? We should be out and about celebrating and counting our many blessings. That's what national days are meant to be about.

The day could work if there was something big happening that would lift us and give us pause for thought. Like New Year's Eve fireworks, only bigger, or Concert in the Park.

Instead, our political leaders all sweep up to the Bledisloe-gifted grounds, far away from most of us.

I suppose they could have some solemn moments there for TV and a few well-chosen words for us all but there isn't. Nothing of much weight or significance is ever said or happens. Except the protests.

The protests are the only bit of news from the day and the only bit that's half interesting.

We have had the wet T-shirt thrown at the Queen, Helen Clark reduced to tears, Don Brash hit with mud and John Key assaulted.

It's these events that mark Waitangi Day rather than a few well-chosen words and some respect for who we are and what we have achieved.

This year we had the public spat about which elderly woman would hold the Prime Minister's hand. It was argued on camera. And resolved on camera. The elderly woman prepared to cause the most trouble won.

On TV Titewhai Harawira appeared selfish, mean and bullying.

Perhaps we should rename the day Titewhai's Day.

After all, that's what it's become.

- Herald on Sunday

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