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Waitangi Day Commemoration

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 6 February 2001
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

E nga mana tangata whenua, e nga rangatira, e nga hau e wha, e nga iwi e tau nei, tena koutou. Talofa lava; kia orana kotou katoatoa; faka'alofa lahi atu; malo e lelei; tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Good afternoon. Greetings to you all.

If I were to greet you in all the tongues that can now be heard in this land, it would take quite some time, and greater linguistic skills than I possess, and so I must limit myself to these few from the South Pacific.

Right Honourable Jonathan Hunt, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Your Excellency, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; Ministers of the Crown; Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps; Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, Leader of the Opposition; Members of Parliament; Your Honours the Judges; Your Worships the Mayors; ladies and gentlemen; rangatahi, our young people. And, of course, the members of the Wellington and Hawke's Bay Regimental Band.

A warm welcome to you all to Government House this afternoon, on this anniversary of the first signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. I welcome you as fellow New Zealanders, as representatives of our country's tangata whenua, of their Pacific Island cousins, of our many other cultures, of those who have responsibilities of leadership and governance among us, of our churches, our community organizations, of our schools. 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.

I pause for a moment to pay tribute to two leaders of our nation, who we have lost in the past few days: Sir David Beattie, Governor-General from 1980 to 1985; and Sir Robert Mahuta, leader of the Tainui people and negotiator of the first of the confiscation settlements. E mate, haere, haere, haere.

On this day, 6 February, New Zealanders, whatever their origins, can, if they will, look back over the years, 161 of them now, to where several hundred Maori, and a handful of Europeans, gathered on a grassy headland overlooking the sparkling waters of the Bay of Islands, and they can say, this is where it all began, what those people did there on that day was the beginning of our nation. That headland, where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed, was bought in 1934 by my predecessor Lord Bledisloe, and Lady Bledisloe, and given to the people of New Zealand.

They vested ownership of it not in the Crown, but in a Trust Board, chaired by the Governor-General for the time being, with responsibility to tend and enhance it, for a double purpose: first as a means of celebrating what was done there on that day in 1840, and the undoubted benefits that flowed from it for both Maori and settlers; and also, and I use Lord Bledisloe's words, as a means of reminding Pakeha, who had become the dominant culture, of the obligations which had been solemnly undertaken by the Crown on their behalf; and as a means of developing a greater sense of solidarity among our people, a deeper spirit of nationhood.

And so that headland at Waitangi is, as it was intended to be, a symbolic place, with a symbolism pertinent to us all. On this day in 1934, when the gift was officially presented to the nation, there was a very great celebration by Maori and Pakeha, and the inclusiveness of the symbolism was emphasised when Lord Bledisloe laid the foundation stone of the magnificent whare rununga, the meeting house adorned with the craftsmanship of iwi from many parts of the land. Here was a place where all New Zealanders could come together in gratitude for the good that had come from the past, and in a common commitment for the future.

That spirit of celebration and commitment prevailed there for many years, as New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, gathered there each 6 February to commemorate the Treaty. But as we are only too painfully aware, the very symbolism of the place made it the focus for the expression of other sentiments too, and it became the scene of angry protest and disruptive, or divisive, or calculatedly-insulting conduct. In a perverse sort of way, this was in fact consistent with Bledisloe's purpose. For the obligations undertaken by the Crown had been, at times blatantly, at times merely carelessly, disregarded, with continuing contemporary consequences; and the Crown, the people of New Zealand, needed to be reminded of that, and forcibly. At times the tone and manner of the reminder, especially at Waitangi itself, caused great offence to the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders, but nonetheless the reminder has not been disregarded.

Indeed, over the past two decades in particular there has been great progress. The founding and continuing significance of the Treaty have been affirmed legislatively and judicially, the wrongs of the past have been acknowledged, means of addressing and compensating for them have been established, and important settlements have been effected; and perhaps most importantly of all, the place of Maori as tangata whenua and of Maori culture as an integral part of contemporary New Zealand life, has been firmly established.

As for Waitangi itself, hopes of continuing what had resumed two years ago have been disappointed, but must not be abandoned. The healing process will not be complete until that headland again becomes a place of genuine and undisturbed celebration and of heartfelt commitment to our common good.

The conflict that this day has provoked in recent years has caused many New Zealanders to ask whether we should mark it at all. Yet it is imperative that we do so. Indeed we have been doing so, in many parts of the country, in ceremonies and activities of many kinds, all of them emphasising that the day, like the Treaty, belongs to us all. This is vital — our very identity as a people requires us to commemorate our beginnings. How can we build a nation if we treat our founding as unworthy of celebration? How can we properly understand our present or intelligently plot our future without an understanding of our past?

So we must continue to mark this day; we must continue to claim this day for what it was meant to be: a day when we can celebrate, not just commemorate, our nationhood and the achievements of our people; a day too when we can look at ourselves honestly and without rancour; when we can affirm the values we share; and when we can with generosity to each other acknowledge what must still be done. It will always, of course, be a day when we look back, and as we do that, honesty requires all of us to acknowledge the dark pages of our history, as well as the shining ones. But though we cannot change, or obliterate, or wish away the past — nor should we — we must not live there. We must not allow the legacy of history to be forever a millstone around our neck. Those who signed the Treaty certainly had differing expectations, but equally certainly they all intended it to be a charter for the future, a shared future.

What of that future now, for us in the year 2001? We would be foolish indeed to pretend that it does not present us with some very great challenges. We are not holding our own in a fiercely competitive world. We are not sufficiently acquiring and retaining the skills we need for this technological age. There is too much unrealised potential, too many lost opportunities, contrasts too great for comfort, too little sense of community, of belonging to one another and our interdependence. Yet, with a shared determination, we undoubtedly have the ability to surmount the challenges, to fulfil all our hopes and our expectations.

One of the many privileges of the office of Governor-General is the opportunity it gives to meet so many New Zealanders and to learn of their dedication and their achievements — world-renowned research, technological innovation, writing and art and music of the highest quality, young people of outstanding ability, tens of thousands of 'ordinary' folk who work away without fuss and without reward caring for others. It is all this and so much more that convinces me that we can and will meet the challenges that face us.

So we have reason to celebrate on this anniversary of our nation's beginning. In the span of human history 161 years is a very short time indeed, yet how much has been achieved here in that short time. Not only have we built a modern state, but we have at times led the world in social progress. Internationally we have become well-respected, exercising an influence quite disproportionate to our size; there are many, many cities in the world with a population greater than that of our country. New Zealanders are known world wide for energy, adaptability, a sense of fair play, prowess in many spheres. We live in a beautiful land, we have inherited the culture of Hawaiki and the culture of Europe and to them we have added the cultures of many other races and traditions. In a mix of past and present, of race and culture, of affinity to the land and love of sport and high adventure, of pioneering individualism and concern for the underdog, we are the New Zealanders of the 21st century, and privileged to be so.

As each of the chiefs signed the Treaty 161 years ago at Waitangi, the newly arrived Lieutenant-Governor, William Hobson, said this: "He iwi tahi tatou" — "Now we are one people". I am sure that by those words he did not mean that now we would all be the same; rather that the peoples of the land, the tangata whenua, the first to come, and those who had come and were to come after, would be united in one nation, that we could live peaceably together under the protection of the law, that we would grow and prosper together, pursuing a common future for the benefit of all, yet respecting and preserving those things that were distinctive to and treasured, especially by Maori, but by other cultures too. And is this not what we are, one people?: for we are all here together in this land, and for most of us we have no other home. Our forebears may have come by canoe across the vastness of the Pacific, but are we not New Zealanders? They may have come by sailing ship or steamer or aircraft from Britain, but are we not New Zealanders? Our forebears or we ourselves may have come from China, or Holland, from Samoa or India, from Poland or Italy, or Somalia or Greece or Tonga, but are we not New Zealanders?

This is the fifth and last time on which I shall speak on Waitangi Day as your Governor-General. Each year I have tried to emphasise the continuing importance and relevance of the Treaty to us all, and to urge that as we celebrate its first signing on this day in 1840, we should celebrate too who we are as New Zealanders; and that at the same time we should constantly strive to rise above discord and recrimination, and realise that our way forward must lie in unity; a unity that values the diversity that is one of our strengths, but that binds us together in forging a future worthy of those who have gone before us and fitting for those who come after us, our children, our grandchildren, and theirs. In 1998 I suggested that we should take to heart an old Maori saying, and today again I would like to leave it with you as a final word:

He kopu puta tahi, he taura whiri tatou,
Whiringa a nuku, whiringa a Rangi, te whatia e.

Issue of one womb, we are a plaited rope,
Plaited on earth, plaited in heaven, we will not be severed.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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