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Waitangi Day Commemoration

Issue date: 
Sunday, 6 February 2000
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

E nga mana tangata whenua, e nga hau e wha, e nga iwi e tau nei, e nga rangatira e tau nei, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Your Excellency, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the High Commissioner for Malaysia, and Datin Ivy; Honourable Jonathan Hunt, Speaker of the House of Representatives; the Honourable Phil Goff; Bishop Brown and Mrs Brown; Ariki Tumu Te Heu Heu and Mrs Te Heu Heu; Sir Tipene O'Regan and Lady O'Regan; Your Excellencies; Your Honours; Your Worships; ladies and gentlemen; rangatahi, our young people.

First, a warm welcome to you all to Government House this afternoon, on this 160th anniversary of the first signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. I welcome you as representatives of all facets of our national life, representatives of our tangata whenua, of their Pacific Island cousins, of our many other cultures, of our community organizations, our schools, those who have responsibilities of leadership and governance. I welcome too the members of the Diplomatic Corps, a number of whom have come from their residential posts overseas, and I thank them for sharing this day with us. And I acknowledge messages of goodwill and congratulation that have come from Heads of State around the world.

Some of us have just come back from commemorations at Waitangi itself, and of course the day is being celebrated throughout the country; for this is a day that belongs to all New Zealanders, just as the Treaty is a document that speaks to all New Zealanders, and is one of the ties that bind us together as one nation, whatever our origins, our histories, our cultural traditions.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course. There are those who say that the Treaty was meaningless, or that it has no present day relevance; and so they ask, 'Why commemorate it?' There are those of the opposite view, but who say that there is nothing to celebrate, but rather that this is a day for lamenting and protesting about the failure to honour it.

I trust that each year there are fewer who hold any such view, for the first are plainly wrong and the second are too narrow-visioned. For the present day relevance and effectiveness of the Treaty are part of our law and of our social morality, part of the way our society shapes itself, and there is no escape from that. And on marae after marae it has been made very clear to me, as I am sure to many others, that to Maoridom at least, the Treaty remains full of significance. To them, the assurances it gave, the promises it made, are as real today as when the documents were signed: more so, in fact, because back then the trust in the honour of the Crown was absolute and implicit, but now, it having been sorely tested and so often found wanting, the promises and assurances remain to be redeemed in full, and there is a proper expectation, an insistence, that they still will be. And of course until they are, the Treaty relationship remains incomplete, unfulfilled.

But so much has been achieved, so much redemption of promises has been made, that I believe there is indeed cause for celebration, even if there is also need for renewed commitment to ensure that the process is completed.

But for non-Maori, what is the relevance of the Treaty, apart from whatever obligations it may impose? I believe it is important to remember that Treaties like the one signed at Waitangi were very rare in British colonial history. At the outset at least, this land was not treated as terra nullius, land belonging to no-one, so that it was available for the taking by the first comer. Nor was it to be taken by conquest. Rather, the chiefs were accepted as sovereign over their own lands, so that their assent was required before British sovereignty could be exercised, and British settlement could follow. Thus the Treaty is properly to be regarded as giving legitimacy to the presence of all who have come to this land in the years since. The right of eight out of ten New Zealanders to be here derives to a considerable degree from the Treaty. So do our nationhood, and the kind of society we are.

That is why I believe that on this day we should celebrate our nationhood, rejoice — why not? — in our achievements, and affirm the fundamental truths and values on which our nation has been built. Just as the Treaty was innovative, so have our people been, in social reform, in research, medicine, technology, law making, adapting traditional practices to new circumstances, meeting the challenges of changing markets. We have adopted and largely achieved ideals of social justice, of individual freedom, of equal opportunity, of fairness and decency.

We have brought together in one nation the two peoples for whom the Treaty was signed. Those two peoples have in turn welcomed others from many nations who have come to join us, and with the contributions of them all we have created a multi ethnic and multi cultural society. We have grown to love the land, our magnificent scenic beauty, the joys of the outdoors. We have prized sporting prowess, high adventure and we have been remarkably successful. We have developed our own artistic endeavour, and have proved highly creative in art and music and literature. We have looked outward beyond our shores to our wider responsibilities. Our men and women have fought in two world wars and other conflicts and now play a significant role in peacemaking and peacekeeping. We play a full part in international organisations and we give generously to those less fortunate. New Zealanders are respected and welcomed almost wherever they go, for we are known as friendly, down to earth, no-nonsense people. We have become distinctive, with an identity of our own, well accepted and well recognised. And so we have much to celebrate on this day, when remembering our beginnings, we take justifiable pride in what we have become and who we now are.

But in doing that we can easily delude ourselves: delude ourselves into believing that we live in some kind of utopia. We do not. Our journey together is far from complete. There is still unjustifiable disparity, still too much potential unrealised, still too much waste of talent, still disregard for the consequences of our actions on our fellows and on our environment.

Five weeks ago we saw in a new year, a new century, a new millennium, and we did so with a great party, and at the same time we all seemed to hope that somehow it would be the beginning of a new era. Television introduced us to people of all ages and all kinds, who told us what their wish for the new millennium was. They all spoke of peace. I found it particularly touching to hear that wish come from the children, our own children, and those from 87 other nations gathered up there on Mount Victoria.

We all know that at the end of what was perhaps the bloodiest century ever, peace is still elusive. But in expressing our longing for it, how well do we realise that the fulfilment of our hopes depends very much on ourselves, on the attitudes we hold and express, and inculcate in our young ones. Peace, like charity, begins at home. Are we really at peace among ourselves?

I am one of those who believe that the Treaty is a living document, in the sense that it lays out a relationship that was not fixed once and for all but was to, and does, grow and mature and adapt to a future shared between its partners. The relationship is one of mutual recognition and respect and working together; one of unity, not despite, but embracing, our diversity. It is in that unity that lies the greatest hope of peace among ourselves, of granting to our children, our tamariki, and to our mokopuna, our grandchildren, and to the generations that will spring from them, that peace which was their so innocent, so trusting, wish for this new millennium.

In a piece he wrote for the new millennium, Michael King the historian quoted from King Tawhaio as his hope, his vision, for our nation, this beautiful benediction, taken from the very heart of this land. It is one I invite you to share:

Kia hora te marino,
Kia whaka papa pounamu to moana,
Kia tere te karohirohi

May the calm be widespread
May the sea glisten like greenstone
And may the warmth of summer fall upon us all.

Kia ora tatou.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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