If Waitangi Day was observed as it should be - and no doubt one day will be - it will be a two-day event.

Today, the first day, would see a public hui of iwi leaders from around the country talking about the Treaty just as their ancestors did on February 5, 1840.

Their acceptance of the Treaty was by no means a foregone conclusion on this day 177 years ago.

The chiefs debated long and hard whether the terms of the offer to extend to them the law and order of a colony of the British Empire was in the best interests of their people.


The next day most of them signed the Treaty, but the debate about what they agreed and what it means continues. And it is good that it does.

The day before Waitangi Day is already observed in its own way at nearby Te Tii Marae where Parliament's leaders are welcomed (or not).

It is the day that has so often produced the sorry incidents that dominate the news that day.

The true ceremonies of Waitangi Day are warmer, quieter, more dignified and sometimes moving.

But they go unoticed by the rest of the country, and only the dissension of the previous day stays in the memory.

It could be so much better.

The powhiri today for the Prime Minister and other party leaders could be held with the desired dignity.

Political debate could be kept for a hui in the afternoon.


A semblance of one occurs in a big tent at Te Tii already. Sometimes the Waitangi Tribunal attends.

The discussion could be as passionate and heated as Maori like it, and go as long as it needs to for a spirit of common purpose to be found.

That's the spirit that will dominate the next day, from the dawn karakia at the Treaty Grounds, through the later morning ceremonies and festivities in the afternoon.

It could be splendid.

The seeds for this itinerary are already there at the marae and Treaty Grounds. They have been nurtured but not well enough.

They need better leadership on both sides.

Nga Puhi elders need to take control of the marae welcome and prime ministers need to put aside mundane politics and speak to the occasion.

The governor-general needs to be prominent at Waitangi too.

One day we will get there. In the meantime, happy Waitangi Day.