Waitangi Day Celebrations 2017

CELEBRATING NEW ZEALAND'S WAITANGI DAY


Waitangi Day is a public holiday held on 6 February every year to commemorate the signing of New Zealand's founding document - the Treaty of Waitangi - in 1840.

The national holiday was first declared in 1974, and since then has grown in significance for all New Zealanders through the Māori renaissance that has fostered better understanding of the Treaty’s ramifications.

Official celebrations are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands, Northland, but there are also many other events throughout the country.



History

The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on 6 February 1840, in a marquee in the grounds of James Busby's house (now known as the Treaty house) at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands by representatives acting on behalf of the British Crown and initially, more than 40 Māori chiefs. During the next seven months, copies of the treaty were carried around the country to give other chiefs the opportunity to sign. The Treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Māori rights to their land and gave Māori the rights of British subjects. There are differences between the English version and the Māori translation of the Treaty, and since 1840 this has led to debate over exactly what was agreed to at Waitangi. Māori have generally seen the Treaty as a sacred pact, while for many years Pākehā (the Māori word for New Zealanders of predominantly European ancestry) ignored it. By the early twentieth century, however, some Pākehā were beginning to see the Treaty as their nation's founding document and a symbol of British humanitarianism. Unlike Māori, Pākehā have generally not seen the Treaty as a document with binding power over the country and its inhabitants. In 1877 Chief Justice James Prendergast declared it to be a 'legal nullity', a position it held until the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, when it regained significant legal standing.

Waitangi Day

Early celebrations

Prior to 1934, most celebrations of New Zealand's founding as a colony were held on 29 January, the date on which William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands to issue the British proclamation of sovereignty. The proclamation had been prepared by colonial office officials in England. Hobson had no draft treaty. From the British perspective the proclamation was the key legal document, "what the treaty said was less important". In 1932, Governor-General Lord Bledisloe and his wife purchased and presented to the nation the run-down house of James Busby, where the treaty was initially signed. The Treaty house and grounds were made a public reserve, which was dedicated on 6 February 1934. This event is considered by some to be the first Waitangi Day, although celebrations were not yet held annually. At the time, it was the most representative meeting of Māori ever held. Attendees included the Māori King Korokī Mahuta and thousands of Pākehā. Some Māori may have also been commemorating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, but there is little evidence of this.

In 1940, another major event was held at the grounds, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the treaty signing. This was less well attended, partially because of the outbreak of World War II and partially because the government had recently offended the Māori King. However the event was still a success and helped raise the profile of the treaty.



New Zealand Day

In 1971 the Labour shadow minister of Māori Affairs, Matiu Rata, introduced a private member's bill to make Waitangi Day a national holiday, to be called New Zealand Day. This was not passed into law. After the 1972 election of the third Labour government under Norman Kirk, it was announced that from 1974 Waitangi Day would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day. The New Zealand Day Act 1973 was passed in 1973.

For Norman Kirk, the change was simply an acceptance that New Zealand was ready to move towards a broader concept of nationhood. Diplomatic posts had for some years marked the day, and it seemed timely in view of the country's increasing role on the international stage that the national day be known as New Zealand Day. At the 1974 celebrations, the Flag of New Zealand was flown for the first time at the top of the flagstaff at Waitangi, rather than the Union Flag, and a replica of the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was also flown.

The election of the third National government in 1975 led to the day being renamed Waitangi Day because the new Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, did not like the name "New Zealand Day" and many Māori felt the new name debased the Treaty of Waitangi. Another Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1976 to change the name of the day back to Waitangi Day.

Waitangi Day

New Zealand-wide celebrations

Waitangi Day celebrations happen all over New Zealand.

In Auckland - New Zealand’s largest city - the national day is celebrated near the city’s birthplace at Bastion Point. It was at Orakei, in 1841, that Auckland Māori chiefs invited Governor Hobson to create the city. This family-focused event features live entertainment, kai / Māori food and kite flying with the spectacular coastal backdrop of the Waitemata Harbour and Rangitoto Island.

The celebrations don’t stop there, with family friendly events taking place across the city. Picnics, local food stalls, traditional kapa-haka, music and entertainment will all be in abundance on Waitangi Day in Auckland.

Wellington - the nation’s capital - holds an event that celebrates Waitangi Day at Waitangi Park on the city's waterfront. Traditional Maori culture is showcased through a range of activities including a waka fleet exhibition, Te Aro Pā walking tours, weaving, waka building, Māori myths and legends storytelling, and kapa haka.

In geothermal Rotorua, Waitangi Day is commemorated at Whakarewarewa - a living Māori village - with an event known as 'Whakanuia'. This Māori word means ‘to acknowledge, promote and celebrate’, and the day's activities centre on learning about Māori cultural activities, including indigenous kai / food, crafts, Māori medicine, local legends and history.

Elsewhere, Waitangi Day celebrations cover all sorts of occasions from major sporting events to rodeos, and even a folk music festival.



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