Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Waitangi Day

On 6 February 1840 representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Maori Chiefs signed New Zealand's founding document: The Treaty of Waitangi.

Every year on the anniversary of the signing New Zealand marks the signing of the Treaty. The day was first officially commemorated in 1934, and it has been a public holiday since 1974.

For some people Waitangi Day is a holiday; for many, and especially for Maori, it is the occasion for reflecting on the Treaty. Since the 1970s the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day have been influenced by the increasingly heated debate surrounding the place of the Treaty in modern New Zealand.

Waitangi Day is recognised as New Zealand's national day, but the long-standing tensions associated with it are always likely to surface in one form or another. The date is an important marker in the country's history. Recognition of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation's founding document will continue to encourage leaders, communities and individuals to mark the day in new ways.

The Treaty was signed in a marquee erected in the grounds of James Busby's house (now known as the Treaty house) at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. The Treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Maori rights to their land and gave Maori the rights of British citizens. There are significant differences between the Maori and English language versions of the Treaty, and virtually since 1840 this has led to debate over exactly what was agreed to at Waitangi. Maori have generally seen the Treaty as a sacred pact, while for many years Pakeha (white New Zealanders) ignored it. By the early twentieth century, however, some Pakeha were beginning to see the Treaty as their nation's founding document and a symbol of British humanitarianism. Unlike Maori, few Pakeha saw the Treaty as a valid legal document which needed to be strictly adhered to.

More information can be found on the Ministry of Culture, Wikipedia and N Z History Websites

An early meeting of the Waitangi National Trust Board, held in front of the Treaty House.

Te Tii marae at Waitangi in 1934, when the great hui was held to celebrate the gift of the property where the treaty was signed. The treaty house stands across the bridge among the trees.

Apirana Ngata leading a haka at the 1940 centennial celebrations at Waitangi. The meeting house, Waitangi House, is on the left.

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