Better the olive branch than a scrap

By Chester Borrows

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It seems like "deja vu all over again" when Waitangi celebrations become the huge scrap the protest movement want them to be.

I write this the day before Waitangi, after a build-up filled with arguments. Leadership among the iwi, ongoing constitutional arrangements and water rights seem to have been this year's topics, and there is the air of expectation there will be more shouting and more abuse, and less listening and less reasoned debate to come.

Hopefully, by the time this column is printed I will have been proven wrong. I am proud of the way the Whanganui Electorate celebrates Waitangi Day with events in the city and particularly in Patea, where the Pae Pae in the Park has become a festival event.

There was a period of quiet when Helen Clark decided she would not go to Waitangi to celebrate the signing of the Treaty. She was responding to what was a bad experience for her, but forgetting that many, a lot of them Maori, had unpleasant experiences at Waitangi, too.

These things are not to be swept under the carpet.

With a change of government, Waitangi Day had seen the Prime Minister and MPs return to the treaty grounds and the marae for the purpose of debate.

The problem is that a debate is not one side shouting at the other, just as it is not two sides shouting at each other.

The Maori Council is seeking debate, and the Prime Minister is happy to meet and have the debate, but last year the opportunity walked out the door when he was shouted down and unable to be heard.

This year the opportunity arises again, and it is one which is very important. That Waitangi Day is not only a celebration but a day for discussion is recognition of the importance of the date: February 6.

To have the celebrations without the debates would be to ignore the historical and current concerns of Maori and Pakeha.

I realise many would rather we just have a day off to go fishing, golfing, or whatever and not seek to celebrate or discuss anything - but that is not the point.

While most don't recognise or celebrate the significance of other holidays such as Labour Day, Easter or Queen's Birthday, that is not a reason to prevent those who do wish to acknowledge them. Many of us now bear in mind the importance of Anzac Day, yet in previous decades we did not. I think this resurgence in those taking the opportunity to consider the sacrifice of others on April 25 is a very positive thing.

In spite of the ill will and bad grace that is evident in the presence of some at Waitangi, I hope that the recognition of those things we agree on, alongside those things we still debate, will lead to a better celebration of who we were, who we've become, and who we will and can be as a nation in the future. Having the guts to recognise all those identities and yet still stand as one people is hugely important.

It is always easier to throw stones than offer the olive branch, but we should always prefer the latter to the former.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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