My friend David Porter wants a geography lesson about Waitangi Day. I am hardly the right person for this. But he asked.
Waitangi day is celebrated on February 6th every year to mark the day on which the founding document of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. It was signed in 1840 between the Crown and Maori who as tangata whenua (first peoples) would need to act reasonably towards each other with utmost good faith.
Our family came into New Zealand as permanent residents. When our application was honoured and we were invited to come into New Zealand, we were sent a colourful book with all kinds of information that would prepare us for our new country. The Treaty of Waitangi was one piece of information that figured prominently in that book. Later, the kids studied about it in their history, which was not surprising. But when my husband Philip had a big section about it in his Commercial Law paper, it was clear that this treaty has huge ramifications in New Zealand life.
Waitangi is a beautiful place in the North of New Zealand where lived, 170 years ago, James Busby, the British Resident in charge of protecting British trade interests. It was in his house that the treaty was signed.
I do not know much about the controversies surrounding this treaty. My impression is that while the treaty itself was prepared and signed with pure intentions, the Maori were at a disadvantage. (Hailing from a country that was also colonised by the British, this does not shock or horrify me. Indians gained some things and lost others from the colonisation.) As for Maori, they could not have held their own against the many foreign forces that eyed this beautiful land, had the British Crown had not negotiated with them in this way. Their interaction with Westerners and missionaries, helped them to refine their culture to a point where they can show it off to the modern world and be admired. In this, Maori are unique among indegenous peoples.
The treaty was not honoured by the British side for some time and Maori lost much land. This was later acknowledged and some corrective measures were put into place. Today, Maori have many special privileges in New Zealand, and many of these are subjects of debate as well, whether they are needed, sufficient, helpful, and so on. It hasn’t helped their cause, that they comprise many iwi (tribes) and have serious differences among themselves.
Every year, one hears about permission being denied for the Maori flag to fly alongside the New Zealand flag above the Harbour bridge on Waitangi day. This year our Prime Minister John Key gave the ‘yes’, provided Maori leaders decide on which flag to fly: the Tino Rangatiratanga flag or some other flag.
Whether the Waitangi Treaty has been upheld adequately or not, the high regard with which it is held, makes New Zealand unique among nations.
I think this unique history has had a beneficial impact on the people here. Children reflect the attitudes of their families, attitudes that grownups can disguise under a cloak of politeness. And as far as I have interacted with children in New Zealand, they are accepting of other people groups. I do not see children of any group feeling superior or inferior to other groups. I am afraid, much as I love my country of origin, I cannot say this about children there.
For a simple geography-lesson style article, please read Treaty of Waitangi
Of that first Waitangi day itself, I would point you to a readable article by Suzanne McFadden in the NZ Herald called Our Treaty: Birth of a bicultural nation.
I am sorry for this simplistic treatise of the Treaty. This is all I know.