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Waitangi Day garden reception

Issue date: 
Saturday, 6 February 1999
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Tihei mauri ora!

Uuia kia Ranginui e tuu iho nei ...
    ia Papa-tua-nuku e takoto ake nei ...
        tohia nga hua o te tau ... hue ha!

E weehi ano to te Rangi ... e weehi ano to te whenua ...
    e weehi ano to te takiwa ... ko te weehi kia Ihowa o nga mano ...
        ko ia te tima-tanga o nga mea katoa ... tihei mouri ora!

Piki mai ... kake mai ... e nga mana ... e nga reo ...
    o nga waka tangata o te motu nei ... huri atu ... ki te ranga kawe mana ...
        o nga motu o te ao ... ki Te Upoko o Te Ika ... naumai ... haere mai!

E te manuhiri tuarangi ... te mokopuna oo Aoraki maunga ...
    Taa Tipene ... te kai wawaahi .. i te kupu e tuitui ana ... te motu nei ...
        Te Tiriti o Waitangi ... nga mihi kia koe ...
            e Te Atiawa, kua tatuu mai ra oo tatou manuhiri ...    
                ka huri ka mihi kia ratou ... tena koutou, tena koutou,    
                    naumai, haere mai!


Prime Minister, Ministers, Your Excellencies, Your Honours, ladies and gentlemen.

I have greeted you all in age-old form, acknowledging the source of all life, invoking divine wisdom, acknowledging the original people of this place, welcoming you to the head of the fish, this greater Wellington. I have made particular reference to Sir Tipene O'Regan and what he and his people have achieved this last year.

Today we join thousands of our fellow citizens in commemorating the 159th anniversary of the signing of what has been aptly described as our founding document. From overseas, I have received messages of greeting and goodwill from a number of heads of state In this country, the commemorations have been shared by New Zealanders of many races and diverse cultures.

It was the Treaty signed at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 that gave legitimacy to immigration and settlement, to the creation of the multi-ethnic community of which we are all privileged to be a part, to the vibrant society - creative, innovative, pre-eminent in so many ways - which is this New Zealand of ours.

But there are those who say we have nothing to commemorate. Some say the Treaty was meaningless, or a historical irrelevancy, and has been resurrected to justify spurious claims and unjustifiable settlements. Some say that its high hopes and noble promises have been so betrayed, and are still being so betrayed, that this should be a day for sorrow, even anger. Some say that we are so far from realising the truth of Treaty partnership, that all we say and do on this day is hypocritical gesture and empty word. I say they are all wrong.

We have much to commemorate, much to be thankful for, more as each year goes by, and, please God, there will be more in each year that lies ahead. We have come a long way on the partnership road, but we are by no means at the end of it. For after all, what human relationship is ever complete, with no more room for growth in understanding and in ways of sharing and experiencing?

So it is with the partnership which is of the essence of the Treaty commitment by both parties. It was a commitment that was entered into with care and deliberation. The fact that on one side the commitment was not well-honoured does not detract from the intention with which it was undertaken. That fact simply imposed an obligation in honour and in justice, in plain humanity indeed, to ensure that it was honoured and that the consequences of its dishonour were put to right. That is an obligation that New Zealanders of goodwill and good sense have accepted, and with some quite outstanding results.

I know there are those who would wish that more had been accomplished, and faster. There are those who see this day as the appropriate time to remind us all with their protests, their banners and their slogans, that we still have some way to go. I have no quarrel with them. They challenge any temptation to complacency, and that is no bad thing. But let us not lose sight of all that has been achieved, and let us be realistic too in our expectations and our demands.

Last night and this morning my wife and I were at Waitangi. It is the first time I have been able to go, the first time since 1995 that the Crown Treaty partner was represented at the place that my predecessor Lord Bledisloe, aptly called the cradle of the nation. I have to tell you, in case it is not otherwise made clear, that the warmth of our welcome, the joy at the Crown's return, the determination to move forward together in unity, were very, very apparent. Those who have brought this about, national and Maori leaders alike, deserve the nation's great gratitude. It was, of course, Lord Bledisloe and his wife who, when that magnificent site came up for sale, possibly to overseas investors, rescued it for the nation, by purchasing it themselves and giving it to a trust to hold in perpetuity for the people of New Zealand.

I have been reading what he said at the ceremonies on 5 and 6 February 1934, when his gift was acknowledged by a great hui attended by thousands from all over the country, and when he laid the foundation stone of the beautiful whare rununga, the meeting house adorned with the workmanship of iwi from many parts of the land. He spoke in terms that subsequent experience shows may have been rather too glowing, but nonetheless the essence of what he said is as pertinent today as it was then.

He saw the preservation of the treaty land not only as a means of celebrating our beginning as a nation, and the undoubted benefits that flowed from the compact, for Maori as well as for settlers; not only that, but also - and I use his 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.

This threefold purpose of Lord and Lady Bledisloe's gift gives every justification, every reason, for our continuing commemoration of the signing of the Treaty. Anzac Day, our other most significant commemoration, marks the forging of our sense of national identity through the sufferings and the sacrifices of war, shared alike by Maori and Pakeha, and our other peoples too. Waitangi Day commemorates the founding of our nation, the beginning of a partnership that has grown and developed over the years, that was so vital in time of war, and that continues to give us one of our special strengths.

It is a day on which we should celebrate our nation, our place in the world; our New Zealand identity, our unique cultural heritage, the multi-ethnic society in which we live, the natural beauty that surrounds us, the talents of our artists and our scientists, our sportspeople and our scholars, the practical no-nonsense individualism that is our hallmark, all those qualities and achievements that make us proud to declare who we are.

It is a day too on which we should remind ourselves of our obligations to each other. The Treaty was essentially about the acceptance of obligation. At the time, that was primarily the obligation of the new sovereign power towards the tangata whenua, the indigenous people who entrusted their future to the honour of the Crown. But it was not an obligation frozen in time. As the new nation grew, as prosperity came, and all the benefits of trade and technology, as the 20th century dawned and slipped by, the obligation remained. It was not always seen for what it was, far too often it was blatantly disregarded, but it remained, imposing on all of us a demand to think and rethink, to acknowledge and to make amends: in the now almost time-worn phrase, to honour the Treaty.

This thinking and rethinking has led to developments that would have astonished my parents' generation. The Maori language, which children were once punished for speaking, has become an official language; Maori culture in all its forms has taken on a new life, on marae, in schools, on radio and television, in contests and performances, in welcomes and ceremonies of all kinds. Members of the Diplomatic Corps here today will, I am sure, always remember their arrival at Government House to present their credentials, and their greeting with wero and powhiri. No mere theatre that, but an example of the rich diversity of our nation's culture.

The decline of language and culture was really symptomatic of a deeper ill, the breach of the Treaty obligation in respect to land and resources. But the Waitangi Tribunal has been set up, and some quite momentous settlements reached. This last year saw the Ngai Tahu claim resolved, and it is with great pleasure that I share this platform today with Sir Tipene O'Regan, Ngai Tahu's supreme negotiator and advocate.

Other settlements are I hope coming close to finality. Those that have been achieved have led to some remarkable programmes in the crucial areas of education and health, housing and employment. I am sure we will see continued growth in this particular aspect of rangatiratanga.

These are but some of the visible achievements, but just as important have been what I might call philosophical developments: acceptance of the Treaty as our founding document, realisation that it created a relationship in the nature of a partnership, and that it is therefore a living document, speaking to us in changing times and changing circumstances, yet imposing on us all a continuing obligation to each other, an obligation of good faith and fair dealing. This year's return to Waitangi is the product of a recognition that we can meet this obligation only by dialogue, by talking and listening, by respecting other points of view, by some imagination, and some compromise, and always by untiring goodwill.

Lord Bledisloe expressed the hope too that this commemorative day would help develop a greater sense of solidarity between our peoples. We have just heard the prayers which he wrote for that 1934 commemoration. You will have noted that one of them asks that our nation may ever be exalted by righteousness, unity and concord. But sadly, Waitangi Day has in the recent past seen abuse and insult, inflammatory and hurtful words and conduct, which have been simply divisive and destructive, achieving nothing of value. I would like to think that we have seen the last of it.

Since 1934, the face of New Zealand society has changed very considerably. The Maori population has grown substantially. Immigration, from Asia and the Pacific in particular, has brought a diversity of background and culture which can only be of benefit to us all.

Unfortunately not all of us see it that way and so the ugly face of racism appears from time to time. We must make it as clear as we possibly can that there is no place for this in our midst. Rather, let us rejoice in our racial and cultural diversity, and be proud that people from all around the world have chosen to make their home among us.

New Zealand has few natural resources. It is with human resources that we must make our way in the world. We are utterly dependent on our people, on what we make, and what we produce, on our ideas and our enthusiasm and our hard work. We achieve most, we benefit most, if we are united in our purpose, in our vision, in our commitment. The Treaty set us on that path. That is why I see Waitangi Day as a challenge to all New Zealanders to strive for unity. Last year, I remember, some newspaper columnist made a dismissive reference to what he called my "mantra" of unity, suggesting I suppose that it was an idle dream, not worth talking about. Dream maybe, but not an impossible dream; rather, surely, a realisable goal that is crucial for us to attain. Kia ora tatou.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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