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Waitangi Day Address 2009

Issue date: 
Friday, 6 February 2009
Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, GNZM, QSO


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the Realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan, and New Zealand Sign Language. 

Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni, and since it is the afternoon (Sign) 

Thank you for accepting the invitation to mark the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

On this day, New Zealanders celebrate all that we have achieved as a nation - collectively and individually. 

Today marks the 169th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which established New Zealand as a modern nation in 1840.   Today is also the 75th anniversary of the first time that Waitangi Day was marked - in 1934. 

Thousands have attended Waitangi Day ceremonies since 1934. However people, both then and since, have had different views about the significance of the day. In particular, historians have shown that Māori and Pākehā had different understandings of the Treaty. 

The implications of those differing perceptions have come into stark contrast as we have reassessed New Zealand's past and the legacy of the breaches of the Treaty.  There has been dispute and conflict, and the debate has often been strident and heated. 

As a part of that reassessment, successive governments have made determined efforts to put right the wrongs of the past.  Separately but with the same aim, the Waitangi Tribunal, through its hearings and reports, has expanded all New Zealanders' knowledge of the Treaty and its principles. 

Our attempts to clarify the meaning and importance of this crucial document have, however, led some New Zealanders to feel despondent about Waitangi Day and about the significance of the Treaty.  Some talk of "commemorating" the signing of the Treaty - as if Waitangi Day was a day of mourning.  Others have sought to find an alternative day on which to celebrate the founding of our nation. 

But as we work towards the future, I believe that Waitangi Day is the most appropriate day for us to celebrate all that makes our nation and our people special.  

We should be proud of the fact that New Zealand was founded not at the point of a gun, but after the peaceful signing of a Treaty.   As Sir Owen Woodhouse, said as a Judge  in a landmark case in the Court of Appeal 22 years ago: "The Treaty is a positive force in the life of the nation and so in the government of the country." 

That positive force has enabled New Zealanders to establish one of the world's most enduring and successful democracies.  While ours is a young nation by modern standards, it is also one of the world's oldest democracies. 

New Zealand has been self-governed for more than 150 years - and for 116 years, all New Zealanders, regardless of wealth, race or gender, have had the right to vote in national elections.   Few other nations can emulate this record. 

Since the founding of our nation, the positive force represented by the Treaty has spurred New Zealanders to achieve greatness in many different fields.  In the sciences, for example, New Zealanders have led the  quest to expand human  understanding of the inner workings of the atom and the complex structure of DNA.     New Zealanders have also discovered plastics that conduct electricity, driven exploration of our universe, and helped to advance modern heart surgery, reconstructive surgery, and many other fields of medicine. 

Other New Zealanders have succeeded in business, the law, sport and literature, music, and the creative arts. 

The positive force embodied in the Treaty of Waitangi has inspired New Zealanders to serve with great honour and valour throughout the world, defending the democratic freedoms that we all cherish. More than 400 New Zealand Defence Force personnel are currently serving overseas on peacekeeping operations, United Nations missions and defence exercises in places such as Afghanistan, Timor- Leste, Solomon Islands, and Sudan. 

As Governor-General, I have had the privilege to meet many New Zealanders whose achievements are imbued with positive spirit.  We can all take pride in their successes and achievements, both as individuals and as New Zealanders. Part of my role is to ensure that these people are recognised and celebrated.  

Supported by my wife Susan, I have also had the opportunity to meet many other New Zealanders whose exploits, deeds, and contributions are not so well known - but are inspired by the same positive force.  From Cape Reinga in the North to Stewart Island in the South and to the Chatham Islands in the East-we have witnessed New Zealand and New Zealanders at their best. 

We have been impressed, time and again, by those who tirelessly and selflessly work to support their communities, whether in bustling cities or isolated rural townships.  These New Zealanders contribute to a host of different projects and organisations - from school boards and sporting clubs to new and innovative businesses and enterprises. 

These people have shown leadership, engaged with their communities, and recognised that enjoying the rights and benefits of a democracy also involves obligations and responsibilities. 

The spirit of volunteerism is the glue that holds New Zealand's society and economy together.  Our health, education, and social-service sectors would grind to a halt without the countless hours of voluntary work that our fellow citizens provide. 

I believe that the positive force that is embodied in the Treaty of Waitangi, and that has been carried forward in the achievements of so many New Zealanders, whether recognised or unsung, will guide us through the difficult times that we all now face. 

Ariki Tumu te Heuheu, Paramount Chief of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, made this point in a recent message. He spoke to his iwi, but I believe that all New Zealanders should benefit from his ideas.  He said: 

"If we can build on our commonalities as cornerstones for strengthening positive and collective ways forward, rather than seeing them as impediments for achieving singular profits or advancements; if we can focus on doing the right things and put aside self-interest; ... if we can for one moment in time give due consideration and diligence to achieving these principles then we will have provided an environment ... that will contribute to the prosperity of our people."

I agree that only by focusing on our common goals and collective strengths can we create the right conditions to work towards a bright future for New Zealand.

During the past 2½ years, Susan and I have visited many schools, polytechnics, and universities and have witnessed the promise embodied in New Zealand's young people. Young people are portrayed in some quarters as a "problem" - by contrast, New Zealand has a wealth of burgeoning talents in academia, music and sport. We have also met many who succeeded despite obstacles including physical or intellectual disabilities.

Our nation's growing diversity, and the way that new New Zealanders and their cultures and customs are becoming part of the fabric of New Zealand, also reflects the positive force embodied in the Treaty.   The growing profiles of the Chinese New Year and the Indian Diwali festival are just a couple of examples.  There have been growing pains, undoubtedly, but New Zealanders' good-hearted, practical, and tolerant attitude to life and to each other has helped us through these times of great change.

As Governor General, part of my role is to ensure that the achievements of outstanding New Zealanders are acknowledged.  Today I'd also like us to collectively focus on the thousands of other people who contribute to their communities without expecting any recognition.  We don't always hear a lot about these people because New Zealanders by nature don't like to brag or skite about our successes-perhaps with the exception of sporting contests against Australia.

But it seems right that today we should celebrate all our achievers and their efforts.  From the humble to the mighty, they are the foundation of what makes our nation and our people special.  Whether consciously or not, New Zealanders can draw strength from the principles embodied in the Treaty.

Waitangi Day is the day when New Zealand as a modern nation was born - and the day when two peoples-Māori and Pākehā-came together in peace to bring something new to life.

When Waitangi Day was observed for the first time, 75 years ago, Lord Bledisloe called on New Zealanders to faithfully and honourably keep the sacred compact made at Waitangi. Lord Bledisloe's call should  not be seen as a burden, but as a blessing.

Waitangi Day is our national day - and a time for us to celebrate all we have individually and collectively achieved as a nation.

This does not mean we should deny the past.  Nor does it mean we should not lessen our collective efforts to address the legacy of the past. 

But it does mean we can all reflect and rejoice that New Zealand is, as former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once said, a "country that works." 

And on that heartening note I will close in New Zealand's first language, Māori, by offering everyone greetings, and wishing you good health and fortitude in your endeavours.   No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.      

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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