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Reflections from Great Turtle Island, Dr Leonie Pihama

Reflections from Great Turtle Island, Dr Leonie Pihama


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This is the first year I have not been on our lands on Waitangi Day. Watching from a distance can be highly frustrating.

However, finding footage Annette speak at the forum through youtube was an inspiration. Thank goodness for hand held cameras and phones that can capture such korero, as we know that neither Pakeha or Maori media have ever made a true commitment to broadcasting those discussions that are held in the forum that has been facilitated by Te Kawariki for many years.

Reading John Key’s speech for the day was like reading some of the recent rhetoric from the Conservative Harper government in Canada. We should be deeply concerned. Yet this year there seemed to be an increase in people wishing each other “Happy Waitangi Day” and that is equally as disturbing. How has that expression emerged in a context where our people are experiencing such deep hardships, where more of our people are unemployed, where people are being forcibly removed from them homes so Housing Corporation can make millions off housing sales, where those struggling on already pitiful benefit support experience even more marginalization, where our people are disproportionately locked up, where radical activism puts you at risk of jail terms, where fracking and mining destroy our lands daily and where a right wing government is selling the basis of human existence, water, to multinational corporations… this is hardly a “Happy Waitangi Day”.

The Key speech and comments to the media over the past week raises a lot of red flags that we ignore at our own risk. Firstly, the marginalization of critical voices continues to be a focus, as it has been for over 200 years. The discourse of ‘troublemaking radicals’ is well worn and yet in a context of seeking a ‘Happy Waitangi Day” its power increases.

There is a colonial desire for us to be ‘one Happy people’, that’s not new, it was what Hobson intended in 1840, ‘He Iwi Kotahi Tatou’ however as with that colonial assertion it remains that in order to be one happy family, one happy people and have one happy Waitangi Day, our people are still expected to assimilate and accept unconditionally the position and power of the government as the representation of the Crown.

The push to complete historical claims and the imposed timeframe is a push to remove the centrality of Te Tiriti o Waitangi from Maori – Crown relationships. There remains an intent to ‘get it over and done with’, with an underlying assumption that the Treaty will then be relegated to a place in history.

We can, and must never, accept that way of thinking. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the basis for our relationships as Tangata whenua and the Crown. Pakeha settlement here in Aotearoa is defined through that relationship. It is clearly articulated within Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The relationship was clearly defined. The expectation of tino rangatiratanga for our people and the role of kawanatanga of the Crown over their people is clearly expressed.

Since the signing in 1840 we have held our part of the agreement, we have honoured the visions of our tupuna in our struggles to assert tino rangatiratanga, we have fought, we have resisted, we have marched, we have taken multiple pathways for justice. We have as a people, as whanau, as hapu, as iwi, survived in spite of over 200 years of colonial oppression.

We continue to seek the assertion of tino rangatiratanga as articulated by our tupuna. Until that is fully realized there is no place for expressions such as ‘Happy Waitangi Day’.

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