A colleague, new to NZ, asked me about Waitangi day.
I explained that “It’s basically celebrating the colonization of New Zealand, when white man drafted up this document in a half-assed attempt to make taking over the country legal”
“You mean they invaded NZ, and and took away the native’s land?”, my colleague wanted to know.
“Well no, they gave them blankets for the land, and they wrote up this treaty agreement, to ensure it would all be fair”, I explained.
“What if they didn’t want to sign the agreement, or didn’t understand it?”.
“That was a problem, in fact they drafted up, what is now NZ’s most important document, and what we’re celebrating, in just four days, and then made a half-baked attempt to translate it into Maori so they could understand.”
“And you celebrate this?! That’s awful”, he exclaimed.
“Well actually the British didn’t have much choice. If they had dithered around and drafted up a proper document, chances are we’d all be speaking French, and NZ would be filled with massive nuclear testing craters. We’d have nice bread though.”
At this point, a few other colleagues wandered into the conversation, and were also trying to convince him, that it wasn’t that bad. That in comparison with the atrocities that occurred in other colonies such as Australia and America, the NZ government has treated it’s indigenous people relatively well. We explained, that the recent NZ government has since then gone to considerable lengths to make amends to the injustices that occurred, and to give back land which was wrongly given to the crown. And that this was a good thing.
“Yes, there were a few misunderstandings and mistakes made, but the
government has done a lot of work to return some of the land that was wrongly taken. It’s mostly sorted now.”, I said.
“But they took their land, and then made it a public holiday! Why aren’t the Maori protesting this? How would you feel if someone invaded your country, and stole your grandfather’s property?”
“Well some of them still are a little upset about it, there’s usually a bit of a protest up at Waitangi, but I think most kiwis just enjoy the public holiday. Anyway it was a long time ago, they should just get over it”.
“I really feel like I need to organize a protest, but I’m not a NZer,
it’s not really in my place…”
And there you have it – a refreshingly different perspective on Waitangi Day. All too often we hear the mindset: “For goodness sake, they need to move on, it was like 160 years ago”. But it pays to remember, that it wasn’t that long ago, and that while Britain did make a reasonable attempt at this colonization business, as far as the indigenous people are concerned it was still an invasion, and great injustices were committed for our sake. Let’s not forget that.
Happy Waitangi Day.