Wednesday, February 06, 2013

NZ’s national day

Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s national day, commemorating the signing of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between some Maori tribes and the British Crown. What, precisely, the two sides were agreeing to has been argued about ever since.

Most countries don’t argue on their national day, though many take little notice, either. Some, especially the USA and Australia, make a very big deal out of observing their national days. Ours is more, um, reflective. In a way, that's fitting for a country founded on a treaty (as I wrote about Waitangi Day the February after I started this blog).

I think sometimes that important fact gets missed: Other countries' national days celebrate things like revolutions, coups, invastions—violence of some sort. But New Zealand was founded as a treaty between two peoples. It kind of figures that there have been a few disagreements over the years (today Al Jazeera posted a good summation of Kiwi attitudes toward the day).

The photo at top was posted to Facebook by George Wood, a conservative Auckland Councillor and National Party ally. I think it shows a certain symbolism of Waitangi Day—the two peoples, side by side. But George wrote, “Is this the price of MMP? New flag on Auckland Harbour Bridge!” In 2007 Transit New Zealand changed their policy so that only the New Zealand Flag would fly on the bridge unless the NZ Government ordered otherwise. George is trying to imply that National only made the order as a sop to its allies in the Maori Party—who, in fact, are in Parliament because they won electorate seats, not because of MMP.

And that’s the real, unremarkable truth about Waitangi Day: It’s ours to make of it whatever we want. Those who want conflict can have it. Those who want to use the day for political point-scoring (left or right) can have that. And the vast majority who just enjoy a day off in summer can have that, too.

A nation’s people being free to treat their national day in whatever way they want—isn’t that the whole point of having a national day? Shouldn’t we all be free to observe/reflect/protest/celebrate/enjoy our national day our way? Clearly we should—even if some people don’t like others having that freedom. But I do think it's important to remember how important the day actually is, and how rare New Zealand's founding was.

So, Happy Waitangi Day—or not; your choice.


Roger Green said...

Nice dancers: http://princetondailyphoto.blogspot.com/2013/02/new-zealand-national-theme-day-d-for.html

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes, but the colours aren't terribly traditional…