Another year, another Waitangi

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.

Share this:
Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.