As a child I understood that the 6th of February was a strange day, one that the adults around me were unable to agree on, neither its significance, purpose nor the worthiness of it as holiday … an unease of the Wairua.
Growing up across the bay from the Waitangi treaty grounds in Kororareka we had a clear view of the ceremony, proceeded the week before by an invasion into our waters of the New Zealand Navy and a heightened police presence on the streets.
We watched the pageant on the TV, the powhiri, the dignitaries, the waka launch, and the vast swirling clouds of white smoke engulfing the bay as the naval guns fired. We listened to the commentary of promises and pledges and decrees of peace against a background of protest and police brutality. It gave a sense of unreality, of distance to the conflict that was happening on our doorstep.
The reality is that my hapu and iwi whakapapa are woven into the story of the treaty signing. With my Ngapuhi tipuna both for and against the signing of the treaty. With those who believed in the good of the men they were working alongside and others who knew that our te tino rangatiratanga would be taken away.
Like many of the original settler families, my pakeha ancestors are mired in contact with the people of the land, profiteering from marrying local princesses which in turn gave them mana and access to resources and trade. In public, they would deny these connections while raping the wealth of the land and their complicity allowed for the destruction of a people, and culture in the name of progress, commerce, and civility.
I grew up in a place once called 'the hellhole of the Pacific' by colonial settlers which later housed their nation's first capital. A place where the young chief Hone Heke lifted his Toki against its standard and brought it down against the invader's flag pole repeatedly. A place that would later be voted an outstanding Aotearoa beauty spot and where second homers unfurled white picket fences across grass once bathed in blood.
My father ministered to the people of the Bay and returned to the language and culture that been denied to him as a child of colonial assimilation. He sat on the board of the Waitangi tribunal and lived next to the Waitangi Marae, was engrossed in the telling of the story of the place, and kept a copy of the treaty to hand.
As I sit here with this unhappiness there is a mix of rage and sadness in me. An understanding that the promises made to my tipuna cannot be consigned to history. There can be no celebration of the day, with one side of the union grieving, with the people still endure hardship and suffering at the hand of institutional racism and discrimination. To say that our suffering is historical belies the fact we are still hurting and bleeding and separated from each other.
A translation of Waitangi is to weep copiously, to shriek, to mourn at the passing of a loved one. To mark a day of unity with this meaning is at odds with the celebration that it should be, it is an ill omen, tapu, kino! Power and strength in the place and the grounds themselves hold mana that resides in the people's meeting house which delivers an ice-cold lightning bolt shock of connection and humility to all who enter it … there needs to be understanding and reflection of the journey we are on together not the destructive colonial patriotism, paranoia, and revelry that has marked the day.
It is time to reframe and redraft the treaty, to reflect on the failure ... on how it has failed the Tangata Whenua.
It is time to deliver a new narrative that respects the true intentions of our tipuna for their descendants to keep the sovereignty of their people and land while sharing its bounty with the settlers. Until this happens the pain and the conflict will continue to destroy our people and the land.