He Whakaaro Noiho

1 February 2010

RHOENA and PATRICK DAVIS consider Waitangi Day and the Treaty of Waitangi

Waitangi Day Celebrations – early celebrations

The signing of the treaty was not commemorated until 1934. Kaumatua of the area indicate that most celebrations of New Zealand’s founding as a colony were marked on 29 January, the date on which William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands. In 1932, Governor-General Lord Bledisloe and his wife had purchased the house of James Busby, where the treaty was signed. On February 6, 1934 the treaty house and grounds were made a public reserve. This event is considered by some to be the first Waitangi Day, and was attended by many Māori and European dignitaries (Waitangi Trust, 2009).

In 1940, the 100th anniversary of the treaty signing was celebrated. This event was less well attended, partially because of the outbreak of World War II and partially because the government had recently offended the Māori King. However, the event was still a success and helped raise the profile of the treaty (Waitangi Trust, 2009).

Annual commemorations of the treaty signing began in 1947 when the Royal New Zealand Navy held a ceremony for erecting a flagpole on the treaty grounds. The ceremony was brief and featured no Māori. The following year, a Māori speaker was added to the line-up, and subsequent additions to the ceremony were made nearly every year. From 1952, the Governor-General attended, and from 1958 the Prime Minister also attended, though not every year. From the mid-1950s, Māori cultural performances were given as part of the ceremony. Many of these early features remain a part of Waitangi Day ceremonies, including a naval salute, the Māori cultural performance (now usually a ceremonial welcome), and speeches from a range of Māori and Pākehā dignitaries (Waitangi Trust, 2009).

A viewpoint of the Treaty of Waitangi and February 6, Waitangi Day

On February 6 1840, a gathering of chiefs from the North met at Waitangi and made their marks on a piece of parchment and in doing so changed forever the way that the people of Aotearoa interacted with one another.

The chiefs had spent the preceding two days debating an idea put forward to them by Captain Hobson and others of his countrymen, that they strengthen their relationship with a treaty.

This ‘pre-nuptial agreement’ preceded the ‘marriage’ of the Māori people to the British Queen. On the surface this appeared to be a match made in heaven, with Māori wedding the bride of their choice. However, history suggests that the honeymoon was passionate and short-lived, and that the terms of the divorce have meant that Māori have been paying ever since.

Each of us has our own stories of what Waitangi Day and the treaty mean to us. These views have been shaped by our forefathers, and their view of the treaty; the media, and their sometimes slanted view of the treaty; our own life experiences and what we have learned about the treaty and its place in history. We are all, each of us, entitled to our own worldview. There will be some who lean to the left, some who lean to the right, and some who sit in the centre, because they have yet to form a particular viewpoint. These viewpoints are shared by people from all walks of life, and the stance of each individual has a validity, which, when viewed through the eyes of that individual, makes a lot of sense.

The challenge for all of us is to stop and think, what is the view like from that person’s vantage point? What experiences have they encountered that have shaped their view of the world? Why do they believe those things that they believe? This reflection should be done without criticism of their stance and their thinking, but with a mindset that says, ‘I want to understand where they are coming from’.

To do this would encapsulate completely the ihi or essence of the Treaty of Waitangi, in that we will begin to understand what makes us different, what we can do to accommodate one another’s points of view, and how we can best serve the needs of our fellows without compromising our own point of view. We need not believe what others believe; rather we need to accept that they believe it is so.

How does this philosophy fit into the domain of the health professional, you ask? As health professionals, we need to start working from the inside out, rather than the outside in. If we take the vantage point of our client, we start to look at the small changes which will impact most on health, and bring about the greatest change, rather than dealing with the whole picture and trying to change the greatest number of things. For every journey of a thousand miles, we start with a single step.

If you substitute health for social, educational or legal issues, the picture does not change, but the remedy will work if applied in the same manner.

Noted Māori scholars such as Irihapeti Ramsden, Mason Durie and Moana Jackson, each of whom is renowned in either the health, education or legal fields, invite us all to take a fresh look at things through the eyes of those with whom we work, in order to better understand their point of view.

If we all adopt this ethos in our own lives, would we not find it so much easier to get along with one another, or assist one another to achieve our full potential, or even answer the inevitable Treaty of Waitangi interview question?

So, rather than just viewing February 6 as a public holiday, let’s all put a little thought into what Waitangi Day means to our colleagues and our clients and our friends, and maybe, just maybe, we can all be a little richer for it.

Homai ki ahau te wairua mārie ki ngā mea ekore e taea e ahau te whakarerekē;

Homai te manawanui ki ngā mea e taea ana e ahau te whakarerekē;

Homai te māramatanga kia mātau ai ahau ko tēhea tēhea.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things

I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Rhoena Davis is a College of Nurses board member. Patrick Davis is police sergeant, Youth Services, in Kaikohe.


Waitangi Trust (2009). The Celebrations of Waitangi Day. Waitangi, Bay of Islands

Kaumatua. Wiremu Wiremu (2010)

TiTi Marae Waitangi – Te Tai Tokerau.