Waitangi weekend again – and a man was close to tears. Nothing unusual there. It’s what the place does to some. What was different this year was that the man was Pakeha – no let’s pass over that pejorative for another description: he was white.
And as he watched zealous young Maori protesters shut media (and himself) out of the lower marae grounds where most of the shindigs usually occur, he despaired. He had been a volunteer at the marae he told ONE News; he had been trying to help. Now he was on the road which some Maori seemed to lay claim to, though it is very obviously public property.
As a veteran reporter of Waitangi Days, very little is surprising about the event. I first went to Waitangi in 1971, when the protesters were led by the articulate and welcoming leader, Syd Jackson. Nga Tamatoa as his protest group was called, made it clear they thought the Treaty and its celebrations were a fraud.
Individually and collectively, they were routinely civil and, because they wanted the wider public to understand their point, made sure reporters were well briefed. On the night, they made an historic protest which helped accelerate the debate about the Crown’s wrongful land confiscations. But over the years the Waitangi protest movement has been hi-jacked. A new group, He Taua emerged – some reporters dubbing it the urban proletariat of Auckland.
If Syd had been civil, He Taua was anything but, and they targeted media with varying levels of success. They also wanted control: control of the decisions made on the marae, control of who should speak and when, and of course, control of the media. In 1981, it all ended in tears. At Dame Whina Cooper’s investiture on the marae the protest turned violent. Very soon the marae ground was covered with Maori fighting Maori.
After He Taua others followed. This year we had the absurd spectacle of Maori banning media from the marae and, along with them, NZ First leader Winston Peters. The Chair of the Waitangi National Trust Board described what happened as a ‘shambles’, but then it always has been on the lower marae.
And here’s the irony: for years Maori have sought recognition of mana and rangatiratanga. Now, at this marae – once so open to media and others – they are in danger of losing both.