You can be forgiven if the salutation above means relatively little. If I hadn’t the day off, it’s quite likely the day would have passed from my radar too. Even so, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s celebration of its founding document the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty marked an 1840 agreement between the Māori peoples and the “Queen of England” that permitted the Brits to establish a civil government in New Zealand in exchange for the recognition of Māori ownership over their lands and other property interests.
Unsurprisingly, there has been much disagreement on the contents of the treaty – the lot of which makes my job here possible. Of principle importance is what exactly both sides ceded in the original understanding of the treaty. The Māori contend that they did not give up complete sovereignty to the Crown such that their traditional governance entities would be rendered moot. The British Government and, subsequently, New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy contends that, in fact, the Māori did just this.
Of course, the the matter isn’t quite so black and white. Consider that the New Zealand Government established the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 to hear Māori claims of violations of the treaty. To date, some $700 million have been spent by the Government on reparations to the Māori in the form of land and property transfers, and formal apologies for violations of the treaty, all with the consent of the British Monarchy. Such payments, however, have stoked the resentment of some non-Māori New Zealanders who allege that the Māori are simply exploiting the treaty to obtain special privileges from the Government. The Māori claim that such concessions by the Government are simply what is appropriate given the destruction of their culture and governing structures.
As an aside, my work here will focus on the restoration of traditional Māori governance structures and their long-term viability. To wit, concerns about extant Māori governance entities have reached such a pressing level that the University of Waikato’s Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre has committed significant resources for examining the best practices of tribal governance from around the world in hopes strengthening Māori governmental institutions at home. All of which is a very long way of saying that my work here will focus on finding ways to help create stable governing entities for Māori peoples.
Taking a step back, as an American in New Zealand, it’s a bit odd celebrating another country’s founding. But I tried to get in the spirit by having a lunch of what the locals call fish and chips – or what I routinely call fish and freedom fries much to the confusion of my local restauranteur – who happens to be a Vietnamese immigrant that speaks only limited English. To compensate for my foolishness, I make it a point to leave a tip. Unfortunately, I think this further confuses him since New Zealand isn’t a country that tips its service industry workers. Strange, I know.
In all, it has been a relatively agreeable Waitangi Day. I met a number of colorful characters, including a neighbor named Jared who tells me that he has an aunt who is Sioux. Incidentally, I met Jared when he dropped by and woke me up, around 8am this morning asking to for a spoonful of instant coffee for his coffee mug. I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead – although sleeping in would have been quite nice today. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Syd, a local, Indian entrepreneur who runs the quick-mart only a couple of blocks away. The Simpsons would be proud.
And with such august company, I have to say that the national holiday/day off has been quite nice. From the Southern Hemisphere to you, Happy Waitangi Day.