How Do People In New Zealand Mark Waitangi Day?

New Zealanders celebrate the 1840 signing of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) on February 6. A paper considered the founding document of New Zealand was signed by British delegates and Mori leaders.

As a public holiday, it gives Kiwis a chance to think deeply about their nation’s past and present. Learn about the origins of New Zealand’s Waitangi Day celebrations.

The formalization of agreements made in the Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, between representatives of the British Crown and more than 40 rangatiras, also known as chiefs.

This declaration guaranteed Maori rights to their land and culture while establishing British control over New Zealand. By September of that year, more than 500 chiefs from different parts of the country had signed the agreement. If you go to Waitangi now, you can view the flagstaff that marks where the first Treaty was signed. It is located on the Upper Treaty Grounds.

The First Waitangi Day

New Zealand celebrated Governor-General Lord Bledisloe’s gift of the Treaty House and gardens at Waitangi on the first Waitangi Day in 1934. Lord Bledisloe wanted the location to be a memorial to the Māori-colonizing interaction.

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They also created a site trust board on the inaugural Waitangi Day. The committee includes descendants of those who signed the original Treaty in 1840. The initial 1934 commemoration drew 10,000 Māori. The Treaty was not accepted by all Māori, and the dispute continues today.

Disputes surrounding the Day and Treaty

Although some people celebrate the day, it is also a day of protest and discussion. Following the ratification of the Treaty, Mori continued to have their lands taken from them and their rights violated. Numerous provisions of the Treaty were not upheld.

The English and Mori versions of the Treaty were written briefly, which sparked an ongoing discussion on how to interpret and apply it. As a result, the Treaty’s observance continues to be very contentious.

Enforcement of a national holiday

As public awareness of the Treaty developed throughout the 1960s, there were proposals for the day to be designated as a national holiday. Waitangi Day was declared a national holiday in 1973 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

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However, the government renamed New Zealand Day to develop a sense of nationhood. The new name was criticized for derogating the Treaty and Mori history. Waitangi Day was renamed Waitangi Day three years later, in 1976, by the government.

How is Waitangi Day celebrated in New Zealand?

The primary Waitangi Day celebration takes place at the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi. The nation’s leaders and communities congregate each year to celebrate the day. The day begins at 5 a.m. with a dawn service at the carved meeting house Te Whare Runanga. After the dawn service, the Treaty Grounds and the rest of the country celebrate throughout the day.

Waitangi Day traditions include dance and music performances and many local artists and performers. The Royal New Zealand Army performs flag-raising ceremonies and a 21-gun salute. On the water, navy vessels, and waka (Mori canoes) put on an exciting display. Even New Zealand’s largest ceremonial war canoe, Ngtokimatawhaorua, will demonstrate its prowess. Nationwide, there are market stalls, children’s activities and sports, picnics, and family gatherings.

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What the Treaty of Waitangi left behind

The Treaty still significantly affects how the Crown and the Mori people get along. The New Zealand government is working with the Waitangi Tribunal to fix breaches of the Treaty by the Crown and ensure that Treaty agreements are legally binding. The government has also set up the Commemorating Waitangi Day Fund to help pay for things like hngi and kapa haka shows and tree plantings in communities. The Treaty is also talked about in Mori villages on this day.

Some meeting places, called marae, have open days or talks about the Treaty. People worldwide will celebrate the day, from Australia to the US and London. Waitangi Day is a long weekend for many New Zealanders. However, it’s important to remember the day’s historical significance and the problems that Mori still faces in New Zealand.

What do you do to celebrate Waitangi Day? Tell us in the comments section below.

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