What a curiously ambivalent day is Waitangi Day.

I can never pretend it's just a "bank holiday", as they say in England. Perhaps to many this year, it is simply going to represent the chance to kiss off Friday work and take a four-day weekend, thanks to the day surfacing on a Thursday. But you'd have to be living in a box to be ignorant of the controversy that surfaces every February 6. Waitangi Day is like a badly made cake. It varies from surprisingly edible, but not perfect, to an inedible mess.

According to the Te Ara encyclopaedia, Waitangi Day became a holiday in 1974, at which point it was renamed New Zealand Day. That didn't go well - the name lasted two years. Protests seriously got going in 1971 and the height of protests is regarded, by Te Ara, as 1984, when a 4000-strong hikoi marched from Ngaruawahia to Waitangi. This year, a small anti-drilling hikoi is walking from the Far North. And we've already had abuse and "jostling" directed at Governor-General Sir Jerry Mataparae at the warm-up event at Te Tii Marae.

I reflect that protests are perhaps generational in nature and quality when it comes to grievances rooted in origins older than us all. A 4000-strong hikoi shows the mana and dignity of those with a united cause. A 50-strong hikoi is barely a ripple. It is up to the younger generation now to carry on the march, but they seem to lack the cohesion and organisation - and the mana - of their fathers and mothers.


What also hasn't assisted is linking 21st century infrastructure projects with the Treaty of Waitangi. We can be honest; just about anything in modern society can go against the principles of the Treaty, because an evolving society will inevitably trample on a document drafted in the 19th century. I can see that off-shore drilling is a risk to the ecology, and Maori are hardly alone in protesting against that. But demanding a share of the money from the sale of hydro-electric power stations, based on the idea that disputed water generated the power, was stretching people's tolerance. But even that's not a new argument and the Waitangi Tribunal found the grievance was valid.

The cake has many flavours, year after year. That's the trouble when the founding recipe is next to impossible to stick to.