Wednesday, 6 February 2013

waitangi day

waitangi day, again.

i started the day with a powhiri at civic square in hamilton, in front of the city council building.  following the powhiri, there were a few speeches, some songs, a prayer and then refreshements.

it was an hour-long event, which is time enough to hear quite a few words.  unfortunately i don't understand maori enough to follow what the speakers in te reo were expressing, though i did catch a few words here and there.

but there were plenty of words in english that i did understand.  speeches about partnership and founding history, and the importance of the treaty.  there were words about multi-culturalism and being one people.  there was talk of celebrating the positive and the nz spirit & identity.  people talked about finding the common and focusing on that.

and for those who did talk about the historical context of the treaty, they talked about the period between 1815 & 1840, they talked about what happened at waitangi, and the next historical point of mention was 1960, when waitangi day was legally established and then 1975 when the treaty of waitangi act was passed.

everyone mentioned the signing, the partnership, but not one single person mentioned the breaches.  it's as if the period between the signing of the treaty and the setting up of the waitangi didn't exist, as if we can't dare to acknowledge the problematic parts of our history.  as if, as part of our national day, we should pretend that injustice and dispossession never happened.  to mention it would somehow put a dampener on the day.

and yet part of celebrating nz and nz'ers, part of celebrating our history and our present is to own all of that history, to acknowledge the bad as well as the good.  because that is all part of what this country is, that is part of our history, and to erase it by refusing to mention that it happened only shows the speakers' shame and embarrassment.  it's certainly not ignorance, because i know all the people who spoke, and i know that they have a good grounding of our history - good enough to speak about it with honesty, had they so chosen.

it's not negative to speak about the bad parts of our history.  it's worse to totally ignore it and pretend it never happened. it's more respectful of all of us to tell the truth of what happened, and that can easily done in ways that aren't in-your-face or confrontational (though it doesn't have to be), even if it does make some people uncomfortable.  but just skipping over it as if it doesn't happened doesn't change the fact that it did.

it's positive to acknowledge our history and to talk about how we can make things better.  and to talk about all the people and institutions who have been working hard to make things better.  and to talk about all the things that still need to happen, all the work that still needs to be done.

the one thing that truly p*sses me off is to write off any mention of that history as "holding grievances" or being divisive.  there is absolutely nothing wrong to be upset about past injustices, and to talk about the impact they have even today.  there is nothing wrong with feeling anger and frustration, and nobody has to get over it just because other people are unable to deal with the expressions of justified emotion on a day when we acknowledge what it is to be a nz'er.

it is more divisive and more negative to stifle those expressions and to enforce a silence on things that we should never be silent about.  so, i expected more from the ceremony this morning.  especially since it was the only formal commemoration of waitangi day in the city.  hamilton used to have a full day celebration by the lake, at innes common, with stalls and food and rides for the children, along with music and performances from a wide range of cultural groups.  but the funding for that got cancelled, and this is all we have left.

i think we can do better.


James said...

What about the many breeches by Maori...?

Carlist said...

@James: Name one.