The Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed on the 6th February 1840, has been said to represent "the establishment of a unique and permanent partnership between the races with agreement on equality and justice for all; the development of the twin concepts of leadership and unity; the birthplace of constitutional government in New Zealand; the growth of inter-tribal responsibility."
This interpretation has become the subject of increasing debate. Contemporary opinion as to the value or validity of the Treaty varies. Accordingly, the Waitangi National Trust has accepted an obligation to provide the 80,000 visitors who come here each year with a wider appreciation and understanding of the significance of this event. The interpretation is primarily dependent on the audio-visual presentation, although there will be a limited number of static displays.
The historic events, circumstances and pressures leading to the signing of the Treaty present a complex picture. The Trust considered it essential, therefore, to present an appropriate balance of opinion in the production of the audio-visual material. To achieve that, it has stipulated that the events leading to the Treaty be portrayed in an historically accurate manner based on careful research, and on an expert opinion where it is necessary or appropriate to give emphasis to particular influences. As well, I am informed that the presentation does not offer judgments, or moral lessons, nor does it attempt to reach conclusions.
It is the hope of the Trustees that this Centre will make a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of an important era in our history.
Buick records that:
"As each Chief signed the Treaty of Waitangi, Captain Hobson took him by the hand and said: 'He iwi tahi tatou.'" (We are now one people.)
Whilst this was intended as a compliment, and was appreciated as such at the time, it cannot be taken literally. It is neither possible nor desirable to fully erase, or submerge cultural and ethnic differences.
To me, a clearer understanding of Hobson's intention would be given by translating the phrase as "We are now one family". I have a family of seven, and they are all different!
I would like to suggest that the races in this country are members of one family, where the personality of no one child should be subjugated to another but rather helped to develop his or her own personality and become a useful citizen within the family. Of course, there will be family differences of opinion, but with discussion and dialogue, and the wisdom of our elders, surely the family can grow together.
It is very fitting that the direct descendant of Queen Victoria should be present today in the company of some of the descendants of the Mori Chiefs who signed the Treaty.
I welcome Your Royal Highnesses [HRHs The Prince and Princess of Wales] on behalf of the Trust, and ask you, Sir, to open this building.