Timothy Giles reflects on the meaning of our national day and talks with emerging leaders, in the lead-up to Waitangi Day
"He Rangi Tā Matawhāiti, He Rangi Tā Matawhānui.
Those with a narrow vision see a narrow horizon. Those with a wide vision see a wide horizon."
I'm a big fan of Waitangi. Everything about it, the whole deal. The public holiday, the place. Te Titiriti, The Treaty. The complex social history and its ongoing impacts on Aotearoa New Zealand.
Pretty much everything I've encountered around Waitangi, I appreciate. Have done as long as I can remember. As a first-generation migrant that isn't a lifetime of memories but, at very nearly 51 years old, it's getting close.
Not that long after descending through the long, white cloud to first set foot here, I heard about Waitangi Day.
And as a pre-pubescent, pre-teen, Pommy kid in New Zealand, I was stoked. Well I wasn't Kiwi then and didn't yet know the word stoked. I was delighted, by this uniquely Kiwi of days.
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The first thing I learned was that Waitangi Day is a holiday, celebrated on February 6. As that is also my birthday, I immediately signed-up as a fan-boy. Forever positively prejudiced to all things Waitangi.
Naturally, thereafter, I took an eager interest in Waitangi. I have watched developments around the day, place, documents and dialogues with unfailing enthusiasm for 40 years. It has rewarded every bit of attention I invested. It's been fascinating, fraught and formative. Waitangi has shaped a lot of my understanding of life, people and place.
Especially this place. Our place. Aotearoa, New Zealand.
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Now I totally get that not everybody feels the same way. Over the years I've heard the talk of doing away with it. As a one-time talkback host, I even took my share of those calls. The demands to demote the day. A seasonal cycle of wanting to wipe Waitangi from the national consciousness.
Obviously my birthday-based self-interest has me implacably opposed to the idea. But I've listened to their justifications. Primarily there are two themes. "It is divisive." Fair call. "White Angry Day," a good friend calls it. She's funny - and she's not wrong. As a nickname, it is as apt as it is amusing.
The second dominant theme is relevance: "It's old news. History." Which it is. Literally. Our history. And I absolutely believe it's relevant.
But what do I know? I've already owned up to being an unreliable witness on the topic. So approaching Waitangi Day this year, I sought counsel on its divisiveness and relevance.
I chose people I admire. People not even imagined in the first days at Waitangi. Let alone represented in the entitlements and obligations detailed in any versions of The Treaty and Te Tiriti.
New-ish New Zealanders, who are passionate about their place here.
Tayyaba Khan, founder of Khadija Women's Leadership network came, she says,
"to awareness of Waitangi late. As migrants, it never really makes it into your life. It's a nice holiday, it's in the calendar. But in no way are you interacting with Te Tiriti in a meaningful way. I was 20 years here and had to decide myself to learn about it and actively pursue it. Which I did at university. Changing my path to study relevant papers. By not knowing the history, some of us have been gravely deprived. I'm so grateful that at last in 2019 New Zealand history made core curriculum. It's going to help change that ignorance for future New Zealanders."
It was a personal connection that pushed Khan to study. "My brother fell in love with a Māori girl from up north. They had a daughter and I knew I had to learn. I asked myself do I know about Māori? About New Zealand history? If I let it stay at 'no' then I'd be living with my niece who feels displaced, disconnected and I'd have contributed to that. She made this a part of our migrant Pakistani family. Made me consider what it means for her to live in at least two worlds all the time. Made me think on how we help her feel at home in them."
This is a part of the appeal of Waitangi for me. Spend any time in consideration of it and history collapses into today. For Khan, Waitangi promotes a very contemporary challenge facing Aotearoa New Zealand. Our place in the world, our culture and identity.
"As a migrant I am possibly more sensitive to this, but I think we really need to consciously create our national identity. Waitangi is essential, for those who migrate, but for all of us. Studying it anchors you to the roots of how this country was built. This lets us explore New Zealand's backbone. How do we tell people who we are? What is our identity? How do we describe it? Feel and taste it? We can't answer that. It is time we put the work in."
As co-founder of Multicultural Times and now associate editor of The India News, Gaurav Sharma has spent his entire time in New Zealand gathering information, seeking and sharing stories of identity and culture. He has found division.
"I have been to Te Papa before, and Waitangi this summer and the discourse I hear at each are different," he says. "I was shocked by what I learned at Waitangi. The injustice, the repression, the deceit, years of wrongs directed at Māori. For me, this is where we start, 'One nation, one truth.' Opening up the hidden truth of our colonial history. "
Mentioning "one nation" certainly pushes some buttons around culture and identity. Sharma had been advised not to use this phrase in his work as a journalist. "That is not okay. One guy claims it and makes it a lie, it's the worst appropriation. We are one nation, we have a shared future. We need a shared knowledge of our past, the one truth. Identity, community and nation all begins when we acknowledge the historical contexts, however uncomfortable."
There is, Sharma says, an uncomfortable truth still to be faced. "I have had senior Christchurch City Council executives, in public forum, tell me that there is no racism in New Zealand. But as an Indian here, I can tell you, I face it every day. I understand that they might believe their truth, I'm not saying they are lying. When you are privileged, discrimination is invisible. They don't see it."
This is why Waitangi matters, he says. "It brings up the issue that's being ignored. Gets us beyond our bubble, meeting the reality of life in New Zealand for those not like us.
"I know privilege too. In my experience of India, with the caste system. As an upper-caste Brahman I am privileged in India but, because of the social evil of India's caste system, others suffer offensive indignity, extreme prejudice and are shut out of opportunities I take for granted. We have all had to fight this in India. Just like we had to fight the colonial hangover. Which is bad in India. Light-coloured skin, 'Englishness', in language, arts and attitude, is still held as aspiration.
"Even 70 years after the colonisers left we still have this unconscious bias in their favour. So what chance New Zealand, where the coloniser never left? Every institution of the state is dominated by the colonial mindset and culture. The history is even denied and repressed. This repression has a cost and we all know it. Every negative indicator, the justice system, health, education, advancement, longevity. Māori and Pasifika are struggling the most, this is the cost of repression, of colonialism."
It is the shared future that drives Sharma to search and work for solutions. He sees Waitangi is at the heart of this.
"Waitangi is the source of our founding document, Te Tiriti. It is a place that holds a long history for dialogue and coming together. It has steeped into our laws and played a role in healing grievance and finding settlement. Nowhere near the commercial value of what was lost, stolen. It is a token value that gives us a chance at a shared future.
"I took too long to visit Waitangi. Everyone needs to go there and understand. Especially new migrants, so we can be part of building a shared future."
There is a name for this he says. "Treaty-based multiculturalism. The Federation of Multicultural Councils in New Zealand has been talking about this. This is the future. The Treaty is the founding document, this is now a multicultural country. Let's learn the lessons from division and ignorance to do better.
"Too many Pākehā have used the Treaty as an excuse to shrug away their responsibility of all the historical wrongs committed. We have a shared responsibility and if we accept it, we win a shared future."
Sharing is the magic of Waitangi. Like Khan and Sharma, I studied Waitangi and our colonial history. 1990, the only non-Māori in a year-long course on Te Reo me Ngā Tikanga Māori. I was shocked and embarrassed. But I wasn't blamed.
There is a long history of Māori leadership patiently persisting with partnership. If we are to have a shared future, they will be asked to persist yet again.
Margie Tukerangi has a range of leadership roles across Ngāti Whātua. She is a Māori leader for our shared future. The only future she says, can achieve Māori outcomes.
"We are on the verge of a massive shift. People are out there working hard and revitalising Māori, making a better now and richer future. But we've lot of work to do. We still need to treasure and grow our reo, to build Matauranga Māori. This is work we must do as Māori. Strengthening our culture in our Māori contexts, aronga Māori. We can keep generating outcomes for Māori ourselves.
"But we won't achieve Māori outcomes that shape the nation, protect our whenua, ecology, our future and our combined culture. These are Māori outcomes, needing the energy of us all. A unified mind. It needs partnership. That is something Waitangi, even with all its mamae, does hold. How and not, to do partnership. We are a long way away from our end goal but we've started, with more voices, taking more baby steps. There will be challenges. We know this."
Writing this piece involved asking a range of people, this one, same question. "What do you think about Waitangi?" The responses always started slowly, halting and unsure. They emerged over weeks. Most people didn't want their names and certainly not their pictures, in this piece. I don't believe Waitangi is divisive, I know that it is fraught.
It is also effective. As Sharma says: "it surfaces issues." Khan told me: "It is in my faith. We must live with care for others, for their space, their dignity and for this land, our home. We must treasure it and each other. These are concepts shared with Māori. This begins our shared future."
In each conversation, these I'm permitted to share with you and others I'm not, the two themes of divisiveness and history came up. There is pain and confusion. Miscommunication and years of misunderstandings. And it's been a great conversation, worth having and worthy of celebrating.
Worth taking a day to think over.