Opinion: I didn’t really even know what Waitangi Day was until about ten years ago. Growing up in Nelson was very sheltered. It’s like The Shire; beautiful hills, everyone is hundreds of years old, drinking wine in the sun, and it’s very white.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just saying that the kapa haka competitions weren’t great, and we didn’t pay much attention to our national holiday.
Embarrassingly the first Waitangi Day I remember was 2004 when a protester nailed Don Brash in the face with some mud. It was a stunning shot.
Regardless of all the good things that happened that day one protester completely changed the rhetoric. It was great free publicity for Brash on the back of an Orewa speech where he argued to end Maori “special privileges” which I thought was pretty funny. Of all the things to tackle in politics I never thought one of the issues could be: “Do you know who’s had it too good for too long … Maori!” But it worked, he almost won. It was like slightly more chilled out version of Donald Trump.
My passion for Waitangi Day started in 2012 when Paul Holmes wrote his masterpiece thesis “Waitangi Day a complete waste”. He said Waitangi Day was a “bullshit day … all about hating whitey.” This was another thing I thought was hilarious until I realised it wasn’t a parody. It was insane.
Embarrassingly it’s this kind sentiment that seems to resonate in New Zealand as Mike Hosking now frustratingly proves year after year. I’m going to write “Maori Language week? Where’s our Pakeha language week?” on the Newstalk ZB Facebook page right now, they’ll probably offer me a show.
Two years after the Paul Holmes Waitangi Day special, the New Zealand Herald, the same paper, that probably regrets publishing it, marketed their Waitangi Day paper as a “protest free zone”. I wish I was making this up: the logo they used for their “protest free zone” was the white power logo. I don’t want to over react, it was probably a simple “white power” printing mistake, happens all the time. You go to the photocopier to get an invoice and dang it, you’ve printed a white power logo.
“But why can’t we do what Australia does: have ‘New Zealand Day’ and get pissed?” Waitangi day is New Zealand’s day, it just has a more significant name. And you can get pissed. Saying Waitangi Day should be called “New Zealand Day” is like saying Christmas should be called “Jesus’ Birthday Day”.
Australia Day is an awesome day of national pride and rugby league players pretending to have sex with dogs. Again, not making this up. It marks the arrival of the First Fleet to Australia, which, is in talkback radio terms is “a PC gone mad” way of saying “convict boats”.
Australia is still working on a treaty with its indigenous people, who refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day.” They’re not saying cancel the day, they’re just saying “could you maybe yell oi oi oi on a less historically traumatic date please.” It’s definitely a weird day to celebrate considering how opposed to boat-based immigration the descendants of the “First Fleet” are in 2016.
To me, Waitangi Day represents one of New Zealand’s proudest achievements, a treaty between immigrants and indigenous people. When you look around the world it’s kind of an amazing accomplishment. It’s a long way from perfect but it marks the start of a wonderful and forward thinking country. I feel pride that we’re ahead of Australia on everything from treaties to women’s suffrage to gay marriage. Maybe Australia is too low a bar?
Peaceful protests shouldn’t be complained about, they should be celebrated. They’re a proud part of New Zealand culture. I hope Waitangi Day can become more respected as New Zealand’s day. A day of celebration and remembrance, where we can all come together as a nation, have a barbecue, and chuck a clump of mud at Don Brash.