E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
It is a great pleasure for Janine and me to welcome you to Government House this evening.
The theme of tonight’s reception is Nationhood – the theme of our work at Government House throughout 2015. You may very well ask why Nationhood has been a focus for Government House activity this year.
The short answer is that this has been a year of significant anniversaries in the story of New Zealand. It’s 175 years since the first signatures were put on the Treaty of Waitangi, 150 years since Wellington became our capital, and 100 years since the Gallipoli landings and battles. Last month, we marked another significant turning point in our history, the arrival, 40 years ago, in Wellington of the Land March – the hikoi led by Dame Whina Cooper - which led to the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal.
These anniversaries have all been a time to reflect on events that were important milestones in our history, events that helped to shape our country. As the American historian, Stephen Ambrose put it: “The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future.”
We have made progress in the development of greater public understanding of the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our history and the Treaty Settlement process. However, it’s also fair to say that there is still work to be done before all New Zealanders know about the three articles of the Treaty, how they have been breached, and how and what the Crown can do to right old wrongs, and lay the foundation for a post-settlement future.
The First World War commemorations that started last year – and will continue through to 2019 – will be an opportunity to learn more about the role New Zealand and New Zealanders played in the war. We will understand better the impact of the War on our families, our communities and our place in the world.
The history that we share with other global citizens is a significant aspect of our nationhood.
Being aware of our history may not seem as pressing for individuals as other aspects of our identity – such as job, family, status or ethnicity – particularly when one in four New Zealanders was born elsewhere. And yet it does matter.
It matters because what we’ve done and what we do and how we appear to the rest of the world impacts on our collective reputation in the international arena. The remarkable result of our being elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council last year, with 145 votes in the first round of voting was predicated on what “we” had done in the past and what “we” said “we” would do if elected.
Inside New Zealand, it’s about how we regard each other and the trust we can have in our national institutions. It’s about whether we feel connected, it’s about the principles enshrined in our legislation and the values we hold as a community.
The scholar Benedict Anderson calls a nation ‘an imagined community’: imagined because we cannot possibly know personally more than a fraction of four and a half million New Zealanders – but we nevertheless can imagine them all as a national community, a nation of people with shared experiences and values, and a strong sense of allegiance to our unique and beautiful landscape.
We imagine our national community in our discussions about our flag and our anthem, and when our representatives speak for us in international fora or compete on the global stage.
While ours may be an imaginary community, it’s only becomes real if we all feel we have a place in it – that we are connected to and included in it.
You may have noticed how diverse the guest list is tonight. It is our way of reflecting all the ways our communities are connected: whether it’s by our news makers, our volunteers in the community; by our educators, spiritual guides and our people in public office; by our people who protect us; and by our people who contribute to the welfare of others in a very physical way, like donating their blood. We also welcome our young representatives from local schools, who represent our future.
This reception is an opportunity to recognise your contribution to New Zealand’s social, economic and cultural wellbeing.
Our Nationhood will always be a work in progress, and in this year of big anniversaries, when we should take stock of how far we’ve come, where we are, what challenges we face –
from the state of our environment to the social circumstances in our communities – we can reflect on what we need to do to improve our future wellbeing.
The value of understanding, enhancing and working on our sense of Nationhood is reflected in this whakatauki: “Mā te ronga, ka mōhio; Mā te mōhio, ka mārama; Mā te mārama, ka mātau; Mā te mātau, ka ora – Through listening comes awareness; through awareness comes understanding; through understanding comes knowledge; through knowledge comes life and well-being.”
For many New Zealanders, our self-image is one of being nimble, flexible and adaptable; of being pioneers of fresh solutions to problems – old and new; and being tolerant, honest and courageous. While we may be some or all of these things, we all need to work hard to make those ideals a reality.
The optimism and courage that our forebears had in coming here, the hopes they brought with them and the diligence and optimism with which they and we have worked for our nation – our nationhood – represents the country that we will leave for our children and their children and their children’s children. For all of these reasons, 2015 is an appropriate year to celebrate our Nationhood.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa