This year another Waitangi Day passed with the now traditional protests, screaming and posturing. Sadly the day has become more synonymous with news reels of mud, tears and fists than it is about celebrating our identity. Most New Zealanders have understandably come to see February 6th as a day of division and differences. Is that what we should be celebrating on our national day?
I believe there is value in recognising and robustly debating our issues. I believe politicians and Maori leaders should come together and address the state of race relations on the spot where that relationship was formalised. Waitangi Day, like no other, is a recognition of where we came from as a nation and so it should remain. But is it still the best forum for celebrating our identity?
On the same weekend as Waitangi Day the Auckland Lantern Festival was attended by over 100,000 people. Families, friends and whanau descended on Albert Park en masse to show how accepting and inclusive we are as a people. Meanwhile, at Waitangi, we had scenes of hikoi, megaphones and the Prime Minister shielded by Diplomatic Protection. Which would New Zealanders have rather attended?
For everything that divides us there are countless things that bring us together. While that may sound clichéd I think it is too easily forgotten. New Zealand has a unique history and an understated pride. We should take a day out with our friends and family to celebrate that. We should come together as a community and acknowledge what brings us together, not what divides us. I know many people do, but at a national level that message is being lost.
Overseas there are numerous examples of Public Holidays which are truly celebrations of nationhood. Our neighbours have recognised Australia Day since 1935 and made it a public holiday in 1994. There it is a time for festivity and celebration with many public events and the naming of ‘Australian of the Year’. In the United States they celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. Again it is a celebration of nationhood and common bonds which they celebrate with patriotic events and a day off. Canada has ‘Canada Day’ in the same spirit.
I think we are more than the differences we see highlighted on the six o’clock news. We deserve a day that is known for unity not division, for patting ourselves on the back not pointing fingers, and most of all about celebration not indignation. My personal view is that we should have a day that is not burdened by multiple messages. Perhaps as a country we should consider whether we need a ‘New Zealand Day’ separate from Waitangi Day.