Waitangi Day, Te Rā o Waitangi – What does it mean today, 174 years on?

grant brookes waitangi alert

Talked delivered by Grant Brookes, MANA Pōneke branch and Fightback (Wellington), at Wellington event Waitangi Alert.

To start with the annoyingly obvious, Waitangi Day means that the poly-ticians are back from their summer holidays. Have you noticed? The talking heads have started filling the TV news again. And in recent years, this means “state of the nation” addresses from the prime minister and opposition leader, and follow-up speechifying at Ratana Pā and Waitangi.

And most people know that February 6 is also Bob Marley’s birthday. So sometimes Waitangi Day means “One Love” concerts.

But what is this “nation” the politicians speak of in their “state of the nation” addresses?

Who is this unified people, who are persuaded to “get together and feel alright”?

On this day in 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by Governor William Hobson, for the Crown, and by over 40 chiefs. The Māori signatories included some of those who had issued the 1835 Declaration of Independence, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga.

As each chief signed Te Tiriti, Busby proclaimed: “he iwi kotahi tātou” – we are one people.

So the proclamation of the “nation” that our politicians speak of began at Waitangi. And maybe, just maybe, it could have been true that “we are one people” – if the treaty signed there had been honoured.

But today, anyone who knows anything about Te Tiriti, knows that the Crown never honoured it. Prime minister John Key admits that the Crown breached the agreement signed at Waitangi . Helen Clark said that the Crown failed spectacularly to fulfill its treaty obligations. The current Crown representative, Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, says the Crown breached the Treaty.

So what does Waitangi Day mean, 174 years on? It serves as a reminder of Busby’s original untruth. We are not one people. There is not a single nation in this land. There are different nations existing side by side.

There’s one nation of around 35,000 people, living mainly in South Canterbury. When this nation woke up three years ago and found that up to $1.8 billion worth of assets had been taken from under them, John Key said it was “a distressing and sad day”. He said it was fair for them to get all their money back, and he said the government would move swiftly, so they were fully compensated. This nation of depositors in South Canterbury Finance got $1.8 billion of taxpayers’ money from the government, quick as a flash.

Then there’s another, much bigger nation, of around 750,000 people all up. This nation had around 250 million square kilometres of land taken by force and fraud, worth tens of billions of dollars. Countless other treasures were taken, too, and communities wiped out. People belonging to this nation have waited and waited, in some cases for 150 or 160 years, for compensation from the government. Even though they are much more numerous, and have suffered far greater dispossession, they’ve received less than the $1.8 billion given to the nation of South Canterbury investors. As a fraction of what they lost, compensation in monetary terms has amounted to a few cents in the dollar. Yet when the people of the Māori nation protest the unfairness, John Key says they need to get beyond grievance mode. When Māori point out discrimination against their nation – with imprisonment rates six times higher than others, twice as much child poverty and unemployment, or lifespans 10 percent shorter due to second-rate health care – they’re told by Justice Minister Judith Collins that their human rights are “excellent”.

Waitangi Day reminds us that we are not all one nation, equal before the lawmakers.

And believe it not, there’s a tiny tribe living among us which is completely foreign. Its customs are different, as are its values and beliefs. It’s a nation so small that the names of all its inhabitants can be printed in a magazine in July each year. Their tribal connection is reflected by the common first name many of them share: “Sir”. Although entry to this nation is extremely difficult, it seems that a handful of Iwi Leaders are pursuing residency.

This the nation made up of the people on the National Business Review’s “Rich List”. Last year, the wealth of these 164 individuals and families was $60 billion. This is more than the combined wealth of the two and a quarter million people who make up the poorer half of the population in Aotearoa.

The residents of Rich List NZ believe that everyone living here this year is part of a “rock star economy”. It’s not surprising they believe this, when they live like rock stars themselves. Their leader, Graeme Hart, lives in a $30 million dollar house, when he’s in Auckland. But he also owns mansions overseas and two 200-foot superyachts, which he can sail to the Fijian island he owns. Or he just could ask his compatriot, Andrew Bagnall, for the use of his Gulfstream G200 private luxury jet. This is the lifestyle that comes when you’ve got a personal fortune of up to $6.4 billion.

The inhabitants of this nation believe privatisation is right, and paying taxes is wrong. Their system of values is based on alien concepts of individual self-interest. They do not agree with protesting on Waitangi Day. To them, leaders like Metiria Turei and Hone Harawira who uphold the right to protest are like the Devil himself. They even deny that issues like inequality and environmental destruction are growing problems needing urgent attention.

There are other nations residing in Aotearoa. There’s a Rainbow Nation, whose sexuality is used a term of abuse. And there’s a people who shoulder the majority of the work but get 17 percent less pay per week, who experience 75 percent of the sexual assaults in this land, and are blamed for it.

But make no mistake. The nation of Rich Listers is at war with us all.

They are the ones holding the most valuable real estate taken from Māori through colonisation. Property tycoons like Michael Friedlander and Peter Cooper enjoy the spoils of victory in Auckland, and Sir Robert Jones here in Wellington.

They’re attacking livelihoods. Members of the Talley family personally oversaw the cuts to wages and job security for the meatworkers at AFFCO, and directed the 12-week lockout to try and break the union when the workers objected.

They’re attacking our environment. The Todd family made its billion dollar fortune drilling for oil, in partnership with offshore oil companies. They also own the airport at Paraparaumu, built on land confiscated from Māori in my parents’ lifetime.

But their foreign occupation of this land is secured not by their wealth alone. It is also maintained by their control of the levers of power. John Key is a citizen of the Rich List nation. So is National Party President Peter Goodfellow and Labour Party funder Sir Owen Glenn. ACT Party financiers Craig Farmer, Craig Heatley and Doug Myers are residents, along with the Vela family who bankrolled NZ First.

They use this power to block efforts to tackle child poverty, to undermine unions, to defend double standards which discriminate against us.

Today, it is right that we’re standing up to resist those who are waging war on us.

Today, we should celebrate the Hīkoi from Te Rerenga Wairua to Waitangi, opposing offshore drilling by Norwegian company Statoil. We should support author Patricia Grace’s stand against the confiscation of Māori land at Waikanae so yet another motorway to be built. We should cheer the high school teachers in Whangarei, and their union, for boycotting cooperation with the Charter Schools which will further undermine education for the majority.

We should take up the calls to honour Te Tiriti.

And as well as “One Love”, there’s another Bob Marley song we should remember on February 6. It goes:

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior

And another


Is finally

And permanently


And abandoned –

Everywhere is war –

Me say war.

That until there no longer

First class and second class citizens of any nation

Until the colour of a man’s skin

Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes –

Me say war.

That until the basic human rights

Are equally guaranteed to all,

Without regard to race –

Dis a war.

That until that day

The dream of lasting peace,

World citizenship

Rule of international morality

Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,

But never attained –

Now everywhere is war – war”

There’s a leaflet being handed out at this event – the one with “MANA” at the top. It says, “end child poverty”, “feed the kids”, “end economic apartheid”, and “end the war on the poor”.

These are messages we need to take forward from today. The war has been going on too long.

What is the meaning of Waitangi Day in 2014? The politicians are right about one thing. It is “our national day”. It’s the day for our nations to renew the resistance against theirs, in the hope that one day we may become one people.

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