I have been at Waitangi every Waitangi Day for 17 years. I love Waitangi for its beauty, the contradictions, the Ngā Puhi welcome and the opportunity for learning. It is always different yet the same.

There is always the heat, the crowds, the watermelons and the waka. The politics is like that too, always different but some things keep surfacing that the Crown would like to avoid. Palpable in the softness of the dawn karakia is the hope for a nation and equally powerful the spoken and unspoken energy of unfinished business.

People who say it was the best Waitangi Day yet this year and there was no protest, do not understand the true nature of the event. The Treaty grounds were buzzing with the unique and positive experience of a Prime Minister who came for five days and led a public breakfast for all under the trees instead of a VIP elite event inside the Copthorne Hotel.

She also reframed the day as one where dissent is not failure which is particularly refreshing for dissenters tired of the shallow media assessment of Waitangi in terms of protests are bad, smiling is good.


The lower camping ground was very different. In tents, buses and marquees intense discussion about He Wakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence,1835) and the meaning of Te Tiriti in our lives was under way. I sat in on a session about the way the settlement claims processes actually extinguish tangata whenua legal rights.

I heard anger and dismay about the Government's intention to sign the TPP. There was discontent from veteran leaders of the tino rangatiratanga movement that the Prime Minister was only engaged in social issues for Māori as if these were disconnected from sovereignty.

As I drove up to Waitangi the Prime Minister was on national radio saying water rights and other fundamental constitutional issues were not her focus. Her commitment is to jobs, housing and infrastructure in the regions, which are vital but they are not Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments.

I listened to Māori activists working on climate change who want an end to oil drilling contracts but the new Government has ruled this off the table. So much for climate being our "nuclear moment". I met manawhenua of the north fighting to protect both the quality and the control of water.

Whanau evicted from ancestral land and the Ihumatao campaigners standing up for the stonefields in Mangere gave impassioned presentations calling for our help as no Government has offered them any solutions.

Two T words keep emerging despite the happy honeymoon at Waitangi, tino rangatiratanga and TPP. I enjoyed the mushrooms and scrambled eggs cooked by MPs but like many people I met I am still hungry for the discussion of sovereignty issues, because the equity and poverty issues are fundamentally connected to the loss of land, resources and culture which should have been affirmed and honoured since 1840.

The Greens call for a review of the Treaty claims settlement process is yet to be embraced by Labour but is critical if this process is to bear some resemblance to justice for hapū in the long term.

Waitangi is the symbolic event where the relationship between the Crown and tangata whenua is annually confronted. When Don Brash received a bit of mud in the eye it was a small reminder of the mud he slings daily over the indigenous people of the land. Steven Joyce was hit by a plastic dildo as a summary of his contribution to peace and well being in this country. Jacinda Ardern received a wahakura basket for her baby and warmth in exchange for the warmth she personally brought to Waitangi Day.

However the T words remain and they will not be hypnotised away by the rhetoric of inclusion.

An investment deal which weakens national sovereignty let alone tino rangatiratanga is about to be signed. This deal and the setting aside of Article 2 of Te Tiriti discussions in favour of generic improvements to housing and jobs is a recipe for failure.

There is a desperate need for well-paid work and homes for Māori whanau but the over representation of tangata whenua in all the negative statistics is not solved by avoiding the dialogue on dual sovereignty and the need for healing of the intergenerational trauma of colonisation.

We all have a part to play in this dialogue of national peacemaking, its a long-term project requiring courage at every level. The new generation of leaders such as Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern will be judged on these issues, not by the charisma of their outreach, but by the progress towards a decolonised constitutional transformation under their watch.

• Catherine Delahunty is a former Green MP.