Waitangi events can bring out the best

By Tariana Turia

On Waitangi Day, I was privileged to attend the Ngai Tahu Treaty Festival, an inspirational and positive celebration of the Treaty at Onuku marae, not far from the beautiful Akaroa Harbour in Te Waipounamu. For those of you not fortunate enough to have visited this wonderful place yet, Onuku is also rich in history, not only pre-1840 but most recently it is also tells the story of the signing of the treaty between Queen Victoria's representatives and Ngai Tahu.

Following the initial signing in 1840 at Waitangi, other copies of the Treaty were taken around the country for other tribes to sign, and Onuku was one of three areas in the South Island where signings took place. Years later in 1990, marking 150 years since the signing, the people of Onuku marae officially opened their wharekai, Amiria Puhirere, and seven years following that a new whare tupuna named Karaweko was opened and blessed at a dawn ceremony. A Treaty festival took place over the following days in commemoration of 157 years passing since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. And still, more than 20 years later in 1998, then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley apologised to Ngai Tahu at Onuku Marae on behalf of the Crown - the final stage of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement with the tribe.

So last week, on February 6, Onuku runanga once again hosted the Ngai Tahu Treaty Festival.

Ngai Tahu elder Sir Tipene O'Regan, who is also a member of the Government's Constitutional Advisory Group, encouraged everyone to speak up about how they would like to see New Zealand in the future.

The group will hold face-to-face meetings with the public and call for submissions on what a specific constitution for New Zealand could look like and how the Treaty of Waitangi might be incorporated.

The other event hosted as part of the festival was the New Zealand citizenship ceremony. I would like to congratulate Onuku marae for their foresight in hosting this event.

What a wonderful way to celebrate Waitangi Day, and what a wonderful way to officially make new settlers citizens of our country.

To allow them to receive their citizenship on a marae, witnessed and celebrated by the wider community, shows just how embracing Waitangi celebrations can be.

The Treaty, historically, was always about acknowledging and bringing together different peoples. Originally it was the Maori tribes as tangata whenua and the Pakeha settlers as tangata tiriti, who were given legitimate status by virtue of the Treaty.

I think many of these new settlers often have a better understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi and its significance to this country than those born here. Many have come from countries which have been torn by war and poverty, and they seek a better life for themselves and their families. They bring with them their culture and they are keen to know our history.

The people of Onuku marae set a great example for Waitangi Day celebrations around the country - for their openness and willingness to share their marae with others in the community and to have the hard discussions but to also encourage debate.

Incorporating discussions on the constitutional review as well as hosting a citizens' ceremony on Waitangi Day openly acknowledges the past and looks to the future.

I don't wish to talk about the conflict that occurred at Waitangi this year - it received more than its share in the media. But I do wish to acknowledge the hundreds who rallied in the hikoi at Waitangi, inciting a call to action to address the hopelessness and damage caused by violence and suicide across our country. We should be proud of the passion exhibited by all those who took part in a massive haka to show we have had enough and that we must do something to stop this senseless loss of life.

There were many wonderful occasions across Aotearoa that demonstrated the vibrancy of our nationhood. The strength of New Zealand film took another leap forward with the national release of Mount Zion. Marae Investigates announced a local GP, Dr Lance O'Sullivan, as Maori of the Year. A Waka Ama Waitangi Fun Day was held at Oreti River in Invercargill to invite everyone on to the water to have a paddle, to be together, to learn something new.

According to statisticians, by 2050, tangata whenua will no longer be the minority on our lands. We have been left a legacy by our ancestors. We have been left a huge responsibility to ensure our languages, our cultures and our environment are left intact for future generations. The nationhood demonstrated around most of the country on Waitangi Day 2013 is what will set us on the right pathway.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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