Waitangi Day Reflection

Growing up in towns/cities with a mixed Māori/Pakeha heritage I’ve spent periods of my life (depending on where we’ve found ourselves) more engaged with or estranged from my Māori tanga. Still, ours was never a particularly militant whanau. My nan taught us to treat all people regardless of race/religion/etc with respect and grace, if not to agree with every idea they might espouse. Consequently I find myself not apt to dwell heavily on the injustices of the past but rather to focus on positive ways of moving forward as diverse peoples in this land of Aotearoa. This is not to say that I’m unaware of the difficulties some of my friends and wider whanau encounter trying to bridge the various cultural divides we meet day to day but rather that I can’t personally live in a place of anger and distance. This context wraps into my current relationship with Waitangi Day. In one sense I view the day as a holiday to be enjoyed with family and friends; a celebration of and reflection upon ‘nationhood’ for all who consider themselves New Zealanders. But always, in the background, is the itching reminder of the constant struggle we Māori—tangata whenua!—face in defining our place in New Zealand society today and of holding close to our cultural values and heritage, so often at odds with typical ‘Western’ paradigms. Mine might not be the brownest face around, and many of my attitudes pretty enmeshed with a lot of current urban culture, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see or feel the underlying attitudes of a significant number of New Zealanders who don’t see Māori as having any special relevance to the country, who harbour some latent resentment to what they see as unfair ‘positive discrimination’. Despite this, each year it seems to me more and more non-Māori are embracing Māori culture/language/history as part their own identity as New Zealanders: something internationally unique of which they too can have a part and to which they can contribute. Maybe this is a function of the circles—professional, social, faith related—that I find myself in these days but to me this is a great part of the beauty, power, and value that the observance of Waitangi Day offers to all New Zealanders. We can embrace together our diverse cultural histories and respectfully blend them into shared values and stories of the nation we are becoming. My picture of this cultural tapestry holds all viewpoints as valuable and important as we make our way forward; Māori tanga being no more or less important than Pakeha culture or the other newer cultures that make up Aotearoa.  Which brings me back around to the struggle of many Māori: to have our contribution valued equally not just as an acknowledgement of some past significance but as a central part of the ongoing formation of our national story.

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