As many of you know, I did not have the privilege of growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand. My parents are from Bangladesh and a few years after I was born in Christchurch, they had to move back. And then they move to America and I had to find my way back to Aotearoa New Zealand as an adult. As a result, I’ve never been a super nationalistic or patriotic person. Having grown up and lived in 3 countries, I never know who to swear my allegiance to. I’ll admit that I knew very little about Māori culture when I moved back to New Zealand at 18. I took Treaty of Waitangi Law as an elective paper at Law School and that was the first time I started to understand the legal status of the Treaty and the legal rights of our indigenous population. During my brief stint at OTS in 2013, I learnt a lot about Māoridom including the more horrifying parts of our history from negotiations meetings. But I am still learning.
Thanksgiving in America is one of my favorite holidays. I love it mostly because of the abundance of food but also because it is secular and so it feels like everyone can take part in this celebration. But one thing that is completely missing from the American Thanksgiving celebration is Native Americans. It is as if they never even existed. The extent to which Native American rights have been abused, the extent to which they are treated as second class citizens, the extent to which they are an invisible people is astounding. When children dress up every year as pilgrims and Native Americans to re-enact the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in schools all over America, they ignore history. Many are beginning to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to Columbus Day but this is not widely known let alone accepted. Native Americans are basically rarely in the public discourse and it is bizarre the way history is so easily forgotten by an entire nation.
America has managed to put aside all the negative feelings that one should associate with how they have treated their indigenous population not just in the past but in modern history. There are a lot of people that believe that it would be better if Waitangi Day was akin to Thanksgiving or Fourth of July as our national holiday. We could call it 'New Zealand Day' and forget all our problems. Many are disappointed by what happens at Waitangi especially what is directed at politicians. But I am not. Many would like to see that holiday turned into a civilised family gathering and a celebration of our nationhood. I don't think that we are there yet. Not until we accept Māori culture as part of our national identity. And it cannot be just limited to the Haka at All Blacks games.
I like that politicians have to confront the pain that is in our society, the wounds that have not healed. I like that we as a nation are forced to watch the anger on the 6’ o clock news and know that we cannot just shove our people behind a day at the beach and a bbq with the family. I like that it forces us to ask questions about whether we are divided as a nation and how we can work to bridge that gap. At least I hope it does. The Māori Party was formed because Māori had a voice. A voice they used to stand up to legislation that would take away their rights. The fact that America’s indigenous population don’t have a meaningful voice should not be something we as a nation aspire to achieve. Perhaps we can ensure better means of dialogue on the day. Perhaps the dialogue shouldn't be limited to just one day. And yes, it would be nice if Waitangi Day was a family holiday of celebration and maybe one day it will be but we don’t deserve that day today.
I am not an expert on the Treaty nor am I in any position to speak for Māori, but it does seem to me that lack of consultation, which is a major obligation, is causing a lot of grief for the government. From the flag change process to the TPP trade deal, the government hasn’t consulted with Māori in a satisfactory manner. This week’s protests and the controversy around the PM’s yearly visit to the Te Tii Marae tells me that Māori do not see their “seat at the table” via the Māori Party as meaningful enough partnership.
I see the desire for politicians to put this behind them but we are still in process of settling historical grievances. We are still continuing to deal with Treaty breaches. We don’t get to sweep this under the rug because we haven’t actually dealt with this in any meaningful way. Only Pākehā privilege allows people to disregard history because it is not “fun”. Only cognitive dissonance allows white folks to talk about immigrant assimilation while completely forgetting that they never assimilated or integrated. They merely destroyed, denigrated, and built an entire society on the backs of death and on stolen land.
Maybe it is because of that or maybe it is because I view the Treaty as a legal and political document that is the basis for the foundation and continuation of our nation. TMaybe it is because I spent a lot of time my time looking at the impact of our justice and welfare system on Māori. Maybe it is because I’m a minority and I’m forced occupy many uncomfortable spaces. But I do not find what happens on Waitangi Day uncomfortable or upsetting. There can be no partnership without dialogue and there can be no dialogue without marginalized folks having the opportunity to protest those in power. We live at a time when Pākehā actively refuse to learn the official language, learn about the culture, learn about the history, learn about the constant and enduring effects of colonialism.
We are not ready for festive celebrations. We have very little to celebrate.
[Please note: I posted a version of this in a previous blog a couple of years ago but sadly the issues remain the same]