Monday, February 05, 2018

Peaceful welcome

Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an historic speech at the upper marae at Waitangi. This was the most peaceful formal welcome in many years, mostly due to significant changes. The formal welcome was moved from the lower marae to the upper marae, which is on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. The upper marae is public property, but still managed by a committee. And this is why the speech was so historic: In that area of New Zealand, women aren’t allowed to speech on a marae.

The video above is from TVNZ’s Te Karere, and is mostly in Te Reo Māori with English subtitles. Their YouTube description sums it up:
“For the past two years under National, the PM steered clear of Waitangi for Waitangi Day commemorations. But today, PM Jacinda Ardern and her government were officially welcomed to the treaty grounds where the historic document was signed 178 years ago. Political reporer, Eruera Rerekura with this report.”
In past years, the formal welcome was on the lower marae, where protests, shouting, and near-violence were commonplace. Don Brash, who was National Party leader at the time, had mud thrown at him one year. And, of course, Steven Joyce famously had a dildo thrown at him. It got so bad that then Prime Minister John Key refused to go to Waitangi Day, and his successor, Bill English, refused, too. Now Leader of the Opposition, English is spending Waitangi Day in Gore in the lower South Island.

This history of often aggressive protests has made increasing numbers of New Zealanders begin to turn from the whole idea of Waitangi Day, treating it as just a day off. Some demand a new national day to get away from the frequent awfulnesss. They frequently say that no other country has such a divisive and protest-filled national day—except that Australia Day is now becoming a hotbed of protest as people demand the day be moved to a different date.

As for this year, I saw some people claiming the day was peaceful because the Prime Minister is pregnant. Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that many Māori are willing to see if the Government really does tackle the many social problems that the former National-led government chose to ignore, or actually made worse. It also didn’t hurt that the Prime Minister announced that she and senior ministers would be spending five days in Northland, talking with local Māori, and seeing the problems firsthand. This was a brilliant move that no other government has thought of in the 23 years I’ve been in New Zealand.

I have no idea whether the more peaceful Waitangi Day events like today’s will continue or not. Part of that will surely depend on whether the government succeeds in addressing the many problems Māori face. But I do hope that allowing the Prime Minister to speak signals a change in Māori customs to ensure women are treated equally in Northland, as they are by many Iwi throughout the country. It’s time.

Mainly, though, it’s time that a government finally takes issues of poverty and depravation seriously, and that it works in true partnership with Māori. The signs are good, but time will tell if it’s just more talk or the start of action.

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