Waitangi Day commemorations are still set to begin this Friday despite Northland’s first State of Emergency in 16 years.
A State of Emergency was declared just after 1pm yesterday amid concerns about heavy rain and high winds expected overnight. The key reason was that it would give emergency services power to evacuate people from dangerous areas.
This year’s February 3-6 Waitangi Day festivities are supposed to herald a return to normality after more than two years of Covid restrictions, and boast a packed programme of culture, debate and entertainment including top Kiwi musicians Troy Kingi and Don McGlashan.
Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene said he remained hopeful the festival would go ahead as planned.
“We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said.
The weather had already forced a change to the three-day Iwi Leaders Forum which was due to get under way today.
Leaders from around the motu were to have visited the forum’s hosts in Whangaroa but instead today’s programme had been shifted indoors to the Tahuaroa function centre at the Treaty Grounds.
Tipene was not worried the State of Emergency could deter visitors.
“I think it’s good that the council and Civil Defence are getting ahead of things and making sure everyone is as ready as they can be, given what happened in Auckland. I think we’ll get ourselves through this.”
Northlanders were used to adapting and adjusting, as they did when last year’s commemorations had to be scaled back due to Covid, Tipene said.
Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford, who chairs the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, did not expect the State of Emergency would affect the commemorations.
The weather forecast was fine for Waitangi weekend and Northlanders were used to major storms preceding big events such as concerts.
“These things are what happens in Te Tai Tokerau. At this stage I don’t think it will affect Waitangi Day,” she said.
The weather is not the only uncertainty affecting this year’s commemorations. It’s also not yet clear what effect the passing of Ngāpuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira, or the resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, will have.
Tipene said the Treaty Grounds flag was flown at half mast and the trust had been talking with local hapū Ngāti Rahiri and Ngati Kawa about how to honour Harawira, but mostly they had been giving her whānau space to grieve.
Harawira was a familiar presence at Waitangi commemorations, best known for escorting prime ministers by the hand on to Te Tii Marae.
The resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose commitment to the commemorations saw her spend five days at Waitangi each year, is also likely to have an effect.
Tipene said Ardern would be “sorely missed”.
“Being a female prime minister she would have sat on the mahau (the porch of Te Whare Rūnanga, the carved meeting house) during the welcome. We would have liked to have given her a chance to say a few words, but we also realise she didn’t like being in the limelight and taking attention away from the kaupapa, which is Te Tiriti.”
Given the Covid disruptions of recent years, Tipene was hoping for a good turnout and a positive vibe.
“I’ve been really interested in commentary since the prime minister’s resignation, about how we as a country should do much better. I hope that message gets through and the nasty stuff doesn’t continue. We encourage people to come to Waitangi to enjoy a positive event and the atmosphere we’re trying to create with local people.”
As well as attending the signature events, Ardern forged relationships in lesser-known corners of the commemorations, such as the Maori Wardens camp at Haruru Falls and the waka camp at Bledisloe Domain.
The aunties at the Māori Wardens camp took great delight in fussing over Ardern’s daughter Neve, and in 2021 it was the first place she went public with her plans to wed partner Clarke Gayford.
Ardern was also a regular visitor to the waka camp’s “tent city”, where one year she caused consternation among security staff by taking part in a waka training session.
It’s not known if Ardern will still attend either camp this year.