Prime Minister John Key has used his annual address at Waitangi to make the case for the day to keep its edge, warts and all, but has warned there is a danger that extremists will destroy the public goodwill that is critical for Treaty settlements to be resolved.
Mr Key said previous Governments and others had tried to create a sense of "national participation" on the day.
"It would be good to see, but I'm not sure that we can or should try to force it. We are not by nature a nation of flag-wavers."
Labour leader David Shearer has used the past two Waitangi Days to call for the day to be celebrated in a more positive way, using Australia Day as an example.
However, Mr Key said there was no other day on which the weight of history was felt quite so heavily.
"It is marked across an emotional spectrum that ranges from great passion among some of those gathered here, to indifference from those Kiwis whose sole interest in the day is encompassed by the weather forecast."
He said the day was more forward looking than in the past, partly because of the Treaty settlements process, which he said had given iwi the resources needed to run their own affairs, create jobs and care for their people.
However, he said those settlements largely relied on public good will and acknowledgement that the grievances were genuine.
He said there was a risk that the actions of "permanently aggrieved" protestors, including those at Waitangi, would endanger the public consensus there was over the issue of settling legitimate grievances.
"Public good will should not be taken for granted. It needs to be treated with respect. It is short-sighted and counter-productive of activists to use tactics and language which have the effect of eroding public support for initiatives aimed at turning around the very situation that the activists are complaining about."
Mr Key focussed on economic development and improving the educational achievement of Maori children, saying achievement levels had increased - but Maori pass rates were still well below the national average.
"Turning around the current waste of human potential would do more for Maori and for New Zealand than probably any other single change."
He spoke approvingly of a United Maori Mission boarding hostel for 50 boys within the Auckland Grammar zone, saying it gave those boys a chance for a good education.
He urged the Far North iwi to resolve their difference to allow them to settle, saying that would add a critical injection of funds to an area in which unemployment was a big issue.
He said the Maori Party's willingness to work with National had also helped build the relationship between iwi and Government.
"It is one of the reasons why we have a positive and forward-looking relationship between iwi and Crown. I have no doubt that we New Zealanders are better off because of it."By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire