Feb 5, 2014

Myths of nationhood: why I'm not "celebrating" Waitangi Day

Behold, Waitangi Day Bingo:

h/t @ColeyTangerina and @Megapope

Bingo is a witty critique of Waitangi Day clichés, but it’s also something more: this is the geography of Pakeha myth-making. Each box is a false political claim. Prepare to hear each claim repeatedly and under the worn robe of “debate”.

Waitangi Day angst isn’t new. Respected columnists will declare the day “broke”, less-respected columnists might announce it’s “a day of lies” while others will broadcast accusations of reverse racism. But most will plea for unity. Yet navigate the calls for unity with caution. Underneath the plea is a denial – Maori have no right to protest their lot. This is the movement to rebrand Waitangi Day.

In 1973 the third Labour government introduced the New Zealand Day Act. Although Waitangi Day had always been acknowledged, that acknowledgment wasn't codified in a public holiday. New Zealand Day – a misnomer – was intended to become the foundation of national identity. A splendid celebration of nationhood.

Except it wasn’t. There could never be unity without equality. The betrayal of the Treaty went too deep, and the collateral effects of Treaty breaches went too far, for Maori to accept a celebration of nationhood that didn’t exist. In 1973 Nga Tamatoa occupied Waitangi with black armbands. They declared the day one of mourning for the broken promises of the Treaty including the loss of millions of hectares of Maori land.

In later years protestors stormed the grounds. Tame Iti spat at a Prime Minister. Titewhai Harawira reduced another Prime Minister to a shaking wreck. An aspiring Prime Minister ate mud. The Popata brothers had a go at the current Prime Minister. It’s easy to argue that Waitangi Day represents “grievance”. But it’s more than that. Waitangi Day is the nexus between the national story and Maori realities.

Two world views collide: the spirit of activism and the fist of oppression.

For more than a century Pakeha society had a monopoly on the national story: the Treaty was a rat-eaten relic, Maori were destined to assimilate and New Zealand had the best race relations in the world. Waitangi Day was a celebration of New Zealand exceptionalism rather than an acknowledgement of broken promises.

But the Waitangi Day of Pakeha imaginations isn’t real. Waitangi Day is where Maori pushback against the myths that society clings to: the Treaty is a living document, Maori retain their identity and New Zealand has poor race relations. The health, wealth and education gaps exist and they exist off the back of the broken promises of the Treaty. Waitangi Day is where Maori can reveal New Zealand's separate realities.

But the movement to rebrand Waitangi Day won’t acknowledge that. It’s easier to switch the conversation than acknowledge that one group is dominant over the other. This is the new assimilation – the battle for history and contemporary meaning. There is a regular plea to make Waitangi Day “our” day. The layers of meaning are clear: Waitangi Day belongs to monocultural nationhood, not multicultural pluralism. Sit down or shut up. That disrespects Maori realities. But it also misunderstands the Treaty itself: the Treaty didn't create New Zealand - that came later - the Treaty created a bicultural relationship.

I'm not going to celebrate the birth of a nation or protest the failed promise of that nation. I'll quietly honour the legacy of resistance and those who are getting it done. I'll acknowledge that colonisation isn’t a distant tragedy, but an on-going process. Maori know it because they experience it. Pakeha might not, but that’s no excuse to deny Maori their agency on Waitangi Day. Myths have many authors, but reality can expose them. That’s what Waitangi Day is about most of all.


  1. "Colonisation improves quality of life" is not a myth.
    Here's a story about a primitive, island nation(s) with a thriving internal culture but no sense of "national identity."
    It was colonised in multiple waves. The first time, by a very advanced empire akin to the British empire, helped the locals develop cities and towns. The second time, by a sequence of more primitive peoples, the result included the population of previous waste lands.
    However, the third time - by a very powerful neighbour - was the charm. This wave of colonisation revolutionised the legal system, the military system, the system of government, and set the foundation for what became...

    the British Empire (England).

    So before you say "colonisation is not good", actually study the evidence. There are plenty of metrics out there (average life expectancy, caloric intake) that would suggest colonisation did more good than bad.

    William Rufus

    1. who giz a shit about the British fucking empire... cause most of us still dont

    2. Your potted history of britain is deliberately misleading:

      1. You skipped a few waves before and after the Romans.

      2. The norman conquest resulted in centuries of war and murder.

      3. (and this is the important one) the metrics you mentioned (average life expectancy, calorific intake) improved with improvements in the technology of production and the organisation of society - neither of these things require colonisation and they usually didn't even coincide with colonisation. Most peoples colonised by the British (and other european nations) suffered huge setbacks to these metrics - the genocide by starvation inflicted in Ireland, the concentration camps and mass murder in kenya, the centuries long conflicts deliberately started to divide and rule in the middle east, but most of all the brutal and almost total genocide of the people of north america. how much did their average life expectancy increase by while they were being wiped out? by what percentage did their calorific intake increase while they were being forced of their land and starved to death?

      Colonisation is the worst crime against humanity in the history of the world and it is made possible by bullshit justifications like yours.

      how does this sound: I will be around to your house tomorrow, its mine now because i am stronger and have more weapons, I will take your food and force you and your family to work for me, if you work very hard and do exactly as i say your reward will be just enough food to stay alive. every few years i will kill one of you as a warning, you will be grateful.
      That's colonisation.

    3. sign last comment:


  2. “Nescire autem quid antequam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. (To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.)”
    ― Cicero

    1. "Ta te tamariki tana mahi wawahi tahā" - it is the job of the children to smash the calabash.

      Or perhaps this is more appropriate: "ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi" - as the old net withers, another is remade.


    The Cicero quote above is from the Orator Ad M. Brutum, a work that is specifically about the rhetorical skills and techniques required to become an Orator in the traditional Roman style that Cicero loved. It's a public-speaking tutorial, not a life lesson.

    1. That doesn't mean to say that its inherent message isn't transportable to other areas...

  4. William Rufus, you totally miss the point..... Primitive in who's eyes?? You're a total dick head, and the type of person we need not in Aotearoa. Ask Boadicea if the Romans were better. Your knowledge of history and the peoples of ancient Britain and the way you interpret that history shows your intelligence or lack thereof...sir, you are an asshat.

  5. Teach the ignorant as much as you possibly can: society is culpable for not giving instruction gratis, and is responsible for the night it produces.This soul is full of darkness, and sin is committed, but the guilty person is not the man who commits the sin, but he who produces the darkness.

    Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

  6. correction Tame never spat at the Prime Minister he spat on the ground in front of the dignitaries




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