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From Waitangi Day to Waitangi Referendum


Written by Caeden Tipler (they/them) @caedentipler | News Editor

This year’s Waitangi Day was illuminated by a backdrop of a looming treaty referendum and building momentum against this government. The opening line of Stuff reporter Glenn McConnell’s piece on Waitangi Day served as a metaphor for the whole weekend: “The powerhouses of te ao Māori have arrived, driving an unmissable, unequivocal, unmatchable pou (stake) in the ground.”

When I spoke to the deputy leader of the opposition, Carmel Sepuloni, a few days before Waitangi for 95bFM’s The Wire, she said she expected this year to be different from previous years. The Rātana hui, an annual political event that sees leaders across parliament kōrero with Māori leaders across Aotearoa, had just taken place. Rātana had been uncomfortable for the coalition government - it highlighted their divisive agenda on Māori issues. Sepuloni recounted how Labour was challenged to make this a one-term government.

Labour had previously made efforts to make Waitangi “the least political it could be” but Sepuloni guessed this year would be different. The government had made Te Tiriti o Waitangi as controversial as possible, so controversy at the home of the treaty was to be expected.

AUT student Piki Te Ora (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) told Debate his decision to attend Waitangi was encouraged by the protests towards our government’s position on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. To him, Waitangi Day is a reminder of how the Crown treated his tūpuna. It also signifies mauri, unity, and connection to his whenua. This theme of unity was consistent across many attendees.

Waitangi this year included a panel hosted by Annette Sykes, which featured Hilda Harawira, Chlöe Swarbrick, and Eru Kapa-Kingi. Sykes highlighted how the panel rep-resented the various tangata (people) present at Waitangi. Harawira was already leading in the space of Māori activism, Swarbrick was leading Pākehā allies, and Kapa-Kingi represented the incoming generation of Māori leaders.

Swarbrick’s kōrero about the need for Pākehā to educate our own relatives due to our accessibility to them was met with expressions of agreement from the audience. Swarbrick had highlighted the simplest way anyone can engage on these heavy issues, with our own whānau. Harawira was met with applause after highlighting the mahi that still needs to be done to reach equitable out-comes for Māori. Kapa-Kingi recounted his experience protesting during the pōwhiri the prior day, emphasising Waitangi Day as being a forum for political discussion despite its symbolic nature.

For Piki, it was hearing from Palestinian speakers that particularly resonated. In his own words, “The interconnections between indigenous cultures and colonisation showed me the true importance of solidarity with Pales-tine across borders.”

This year was my first time attending Waitangi. My key takeaway is that it goes so far beyond the political leaders’ pōwhiri. It is a living opportunity for kōrero and connection. The treaty grounds were alive with activity - stalls, reunions, and arguments. By 7am there was not a single parking space available, and the queue to get inside the grounds stretched an hour down the road.

Waitangi showed there are plenty of New Zealanders, whether they are tangata whenua, tangata Tiriti, or tangata Moana, who are for listening to one another and are for honouring our founding document. The incoming generation of rangatahi leadership who were present at Waitangi seemed particularly engaged with the kōrero in this space. It doesn't seem like the Māori-led, united resistance to this government’s anti-Te Tiriti policies present at Waitangi will be slowing down anytime soon, especially if we end up with a referendum. But Waitangi shows debate on Te Tiriti is possible, even necessary, as long as all parties stand on equal footing.


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