Yesterday in Aotearoa/New Zealand it was Waitangi Day, which commemorates unification between the indigenous Māori inhabitants and the British settler population. For the nation-state of New Zealand, every 6 February is heralded as a day of celebration for all “Kiwis,” or New Zealanders, to express their collective patriotism. Well, that’s one version of it.
It was on 6 February 1840 when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by 46 rangatira (Māori chieftains), and in the six months following, approximately 450 more. Te Tiriti was authored by the British and written in te reo Māori. Māori in contemporary society who believe in decolonization efforts (along with non-Māori allies) argue that Te Tiriti “cemented [Māori’s] overriding authority, while granting permission to the Crown to regulate the conduct of British nationals” (Mikaere, 2011, p. 129).
This historical document was also written in British English, and in this version, The Treaty of Waitangi mandated that the Māori population cede their sovereignty to the British Crown in return for protected property rights. Thus for the British, The Treaty of Waitangi has served as the central legal document that legitimized citizenship and continues claim to the land.
For Māori, The Treaty represents the beginning of British colonial, legal imposition into Aotearoa that was furthered substantially in the 1860s through legal maneuvering that privatized land ownership – a familiar colonial tactic employed across the Pacific.
With a national holiday celebrating The Treaty – a legal document that includes indigenous peoples – it may appear that in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the indigenous people have it comparatively good. But consider that prior to British arrival, the Māori population stood at somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000; by about 1900, their population dropped to 42,000. And today, Māori share the same types of social disparities as other indigenous peoples worldwide.
It is because of these historical concerns and ongoing disparities that not all Māori celebrate Waitangi Day. In fact, the national holiday has a history of Māori protest, which with all things considered, should hardly be surprising. Shouldn’t a place’s indigenous people have the right to protest on their own homeland?
And this brings me to this blog entry’s subject.
Yesterday’s front page of The New Zealand Herald (the country’s most prominent newspaper) made special effort to highlight a piece on Waitangi Day “protest free” with a white fist driven up.
The paper’s headline story, “Celebrating NZ’s day: Waitangi: What it means to you” strategically profiles an ethnically diverse group of individuals, some of whom speak to historical injustices and today’s social inequalities. Some excerpts from the story:
The important thing [regarding Waitangi] is probably the continued acknowledgement of the Treaty. And, along with it, the acknowledgement by Pakeha of all injustices committed against Maori, while their ancestors blatantly ignored the Treaty. Especially since the roots of the alarming inequality in the country today go all the way back to what we like to call colonisation; I don’t see how it could be any more relevant.
The Treaty of Waitangi was breached as bro and heaps of Kiwis don’t know that. I can’t believe the Government thought they could get away with the confiscation of land, the banning of te reo AND the pepper-potting – please look it up. I’ve met too many Kiwis that think we should just forget about it and that Maori should move on, and it’s exhausting explaining why that’s a really stink way to think…
A continued dialogue around the Treaty will always be important. The birth of contemporary NZ started under colonial rule that brought with it all the (problems) of colonisation. Continued conversation, debate and dialogue keep questions of power and exploitation alive, relevant and evolving and hopefully make us as a community more aware of the respect that is owed every human being and the land we inhabit.
Many Kiwis think we need to move on, but for me there is still so much work to do around the Treaty and race relations that it’s way too early to start celebrating. I want NZ to be a country that is world-renowned for its equality. Where it is a priority, not just a soundbite or media tag, but written into our constitution so any and all governments can be held to this one core value: equality.
Still, because The Herald has framed these interviewees’ contributions within a dominant “protest-free” discourse and included the excerpts within a story that “celebrates” Waitangi Day, any radical critique of The Treaty is negated. Critique can only come through moderated reflections of “moving on” in reconciliatory ways that don’t attack the status quo, that don’t address land rights, that don’t address substantive changes in mainstream culture.
And this is how mainstream, neocolonial media makes itself appear progressive while actually supporting the state to minimize indigenous/human rights.