Each year, on the sixth of February, New Zealand descends into civil war. The war concerns the celebration of the nations founding treaty, Waitangi Day. The combatants entrench themselves in three main camps.
The Right camp holds that the day “does not mean much” [Hide, 2013], and “should be ditched” for a “true New Zealand day” [Rutherford, 2013]. The Centre camp holds that the day celebrates a largely benevolent union between Pakeha and Maori. The Left camp holds that the day should be one of “mourning” [Robinson, 2012, p.44], as Maori have been “scattered [and] broken” by Pakeha since the treaty was signed [as cited in Robinson, 2012, p.39].
Of course, the Left camp may phrase the situation differently. They may attack the Right and Centre camps with wishing to forget and misrepresent the day because Pakeha have subjugated Maori since the treaty was signed. They may contend Pakeha wish to retain their gains while shedding their blame. And indeed the treaty itself, and past events demographic, political, military, economic and cultural, may just reinforce the Left camps charges.
While the Right attaches little significance to the day, the Centre does, and here the Centre retaliates. The treaty was a means of protecting Maori from the unchecked actions of settlers, they allege P [Biggs & Moon, 2005, p.70]. The Maori willingly signed the treaty. Historians such as T. Lindsay Buick and A.H. Reed are right to have applauded the treaty as “an example of British colonial benevolence” [2012, p.38].
However, the treaty was important for the opposite reason: far from being altruistic, it announced the British government’s intent to annexe both the country of New Zealand and its Maori inhabitants. In the English translation of the treaty, the Maori relinquished “absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty” Q [as cited in Pryor, 2005, p.85]. But perhaps due to fears that autonomy would not simply be abandoned, the point was fudged in the Maori translation [Ministry of Justice]. The Maori were presented with a sanitised piece of paper—that is the only reason they signed.
The Centre challenges this claim. They point out the treaty was written nearly two centuries ago; they claim the British translators had simply not fully mastered the Maori language at that point. The aim was beneficent biculturalism. Any translational mistake was accidental.
Unfortunately, subsequent events would show the British had every intention of snuffing out Maori sovereignty. It would be terminated in five ways.
Firstly, it was important that Pakeha outnumber the Maori. This was achieved by creating settlement towns with high Pakeha population densities: zones where Anglo-Saxon institutions and power could initially exist free from the pressures of Maoridom, protecting the nascent Pakeha population while it was still small. This phase would not last long however, with the marketing of the country as an arcadia to would-be-emigrants in Britain S [Belich, 1996, p.298-301] and the Otago gold rush causing the European population of New Zealand to increase to half a million people by 1881 [1996, p.278]. From the initial urban hotspots the Europeans spread throughout the country, helped along by Julius Vogel’s public infrastructure spending, with the publicly stated aim of outnumbering the Maori everywhere [1996, p.242].
Once they were outnumbered, they could also be subjugated politically. Through the carrot of Maori Seats, many Maori were seduced into attempting to defend themselves through legislative efforts. The problem was they were working within a democratic, Westminster system. Democracy means the rule of the majority: once the Maori were outnumbered such efforts were doomed to impotence.
Some Maori tried to defend themselves militarily. Hone Heke and his supporters rebelled; the Kingite movement was born; Taranaki and Waikato were lined with trenches. But with the signing of the treaty came vast numbers of imperial troops [1996, p.191]. The Maori involved were soon outnumbered, outgunned, and ultimately subdued.
Maori sovereignty was also undermined economically. Between 1846 and 1853, Governor George Grey bought almost half of the country for less than a half-penny per acre [1996, p.225]. With the creation of nature reserves, traditional hunting and gathering grounds were rendered inaccessible. Although land compensations have been made since then, they represent less than one percent of the relevant lands lost value P [O’Sullivan, 2008, p.322].
Finally, replacing Maori culture with European culture helped disrupt and disorientate any Maori resistance to British colonisation. The whanau-hapu-iwi social system of the Maori was corroded, indirectly by European capitalism [1996, p.148] and more directly by the Native Land Court [1996, p.258]. The Maori language was stamped out and replaced with English. Tapu was replaced with law. Pakeha culture became invisible because it was omni-present [2012, p.47]. Although the left has paid lip service to Maori culture over the last few decades, all they have done is graft “bits of Indigenous culture around a monocultural core” [as cited in O’Sullivan, 2008, p.325].
As these events show, both Right claims that the day is insignificant and Centre claims that the day is significant for humanitarian reasons are defenceless. The Treaty of Waitangi has transformed New Zealand into an Anglo-Saxon colony, and its native inhabitants into a colonised people. For these reasons, Waitangi Day is important. But for these reasons, it is no cause for celebration. Instead, it is a constant reminder of the ignoble roots of our past.
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Biggs, P., & Moon, P. (2005). Birth of a nation. Investigate, 5(49), 66-77.
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Hide, R. (2013, February 10). So-called national day about fights and whines.
The New Zealand Herald.
New Zealand Ministry of Justice. Website.
Retrieved from http://www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/waitangi-tribunal
O’Sullivan, D. (2008). The Treaty of Waitangi in contemporary New Zealand politics.
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Retrieved from Academic Search Premier. DOI:10.1080/10361140802035804
Pryor, J. (2005). Reconciling the irreconcilable? Social Semiotics, 15(1), 81-101.
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Robinson, H. (2012). Making a New Zealand day. New Zealand journal of history, 46(1), 37-51.
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Rutherford, H. (2013, March 21). Let’s drop Waitangi Day.
The Press, p.A5.