Waitangi Day 'a sham' - MICHAEL SOUTHEY

MICHAEL SOUTHEY

 07/02/2014

What does Waitangi Day mean to me? Well, to be perfectly honest, it's a sham.

Not for the controversy mongers in the media, and not for the small group of radical Maori protestors that people somehow think is representative of every Maori in New Zealand.

It's a sham because it means nothing to a vast majority of Pakeha New Zealanders.

I watched the film 12 Years a Slave recently, and it filled me with all the same emotions I assume most people feel when they watch it and other movies that address the racial prejudice tainting the history of America - disgust, disbelief, sadness.

Discussion always yields the same lines: 'It was such a dark period of history', 'it was so unfair, the way they were treated', etc.

The same comments are made about the Holocaust, the deforestation of the Amazon and the subsequent displacement of the native people.

But mention the Treaty of Waitangi and what reaction do we get? 'I'm sick of all the moaning', 'another day for the 'Mowries' to be in the political spotlight, can't they just get over it?'

Google the Tohunga Suppresion Act 1907, which made being a Tohunga (spiritual, health, and educational leaders of a tribe) punishable by imprisonment.

Or how about the Native Schools Act 1867, which introduced schools where Maori children were only allowed to speak English.

Put yourself in the shoes of my grandfather, who was given an English name in place of the Maori name his mother gave him, and who, to this day, is known by that false name.

If the thought of having your home and language forcibly taken from you still doesn't seem like that big of a deal, imagine being stripped of the right to be called by your own name.

To say Maori never experienced anything worth all of the moaning is wrong and offensive.

I am overwhelmed by the audacity that New Zealanders have to call themselves 'clean and green' and '100 per cent pure New Zealand', or to proclaim how dedicated our country is to conservation of our trees, ocean, and wildlife.

What about a culture? A language? An entire race of people?

Take a clear, unbiased look back at our history and see that the Maori race, the native people of Aotearoa, were almost systematically assimilated by the British, to the point of near-extinction.

If not in blood, then most definitely in language and culture. And yet, New Zealanders seem to value more the existence of an endangered bird or two.

People are slowly becoming aware of our country's history. Gradually, snippets of it have snuck into our education system, and the rise of strong, educated, and opinionated Maori are contributing to it.

People are waking up and realising that our history is bloody, violent, and full of injustice. Injustice that is only now - to some degree - being addressed.

And many New Zealanders hate it. They hate to admit the fact that our history is as ugly and full of oppression as that of America and Australia.

And they hate most of all the fact that they can be connected in any way to the settlers that were responsible. And so they get defensive.

They don't like their fantasy of perfect little New Zealand being shattered. Especially when, on some unfortunate occasions, based purely on skin-colour, they are discriminated against. Especially when, sometimes, they feel displaced in their own country. Horrible, isn't it?

But here's the thing, accepting our history for what it is makes us in no way responsible for it. We are not our ancestors, nor are we guilty of their crimes, so what reason is there to get so defensive about it?

What harm will come to you if you simply acknowledge the fact that some horrible things happened in our past that need to be addressed?

It seems so simple to me - I identify primarily as Maori but do not dispute that I have a British ancestor who was probably responsible for some terrible things.

But that does not make me the same as him. I am who I choose to be and I choose to accept the fact that Maori were oppressed by British settlers.

I choose to believe that Maori need the time to grieve and share their experiences, and that Pakeha need to accept and understand.

I choose to believe that, only once we all, as a nation, accept our past has happened and cannot be changed but that our future is still very much unwritten, that we can become what the signatories of Te Tiriti envisioned us being: at peace.

This is what Waitangi Day really means to me. It is a time to address the history of New Zealand in a positive way, to remember the past but look to the future.