Wednesday, December 6

‘Like a forest without the birdsong’: Waitangi Day becomes more thoughtful as covid takes its toll | New Zealand

THEn the 182nd anniversary of the signing of the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, normally packed with tens of thousands of people, were quiet and enveloped in a sheen of rain, a sign or tohu, for some it is a Waitangi Day like no other.

National events were canceled this year and ceremonies, speeches and reflections moved online, as the country teeters on the brink of a widespread Omicron outbreak.

In previous years, the day begins with a sunrise service, where Maori leaders, members of parliament, religious leaders, officials and many others gather in the dark to join in waiata (song) and prayer. This is followed by speeches, live music and a barbecue served by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and members of her Labor Party. Approximately 40,000 people attend the celebration each year, under a scorching summer sun.

Today, under dim, rainy skies, just 200 people gathered on the shoreline below Ti Tii Marae to watch waka taua (war canoes) being paddled to shore.

Pita Tipene, chairman of the Waitangi National Trust Board, said the morning was surreal without the usual crowds. Tipene performed her own karakia (prayer) early in the morning, with her mokopuna (grandchildren). He stood in the marae (meeting house) and looked across the empty grounds, where he would normally see people standing shoulder to shoulder, and compared it to a forest without birdsong or cicadas.

“The interaction, the speech, the discussion, the debate and the murmur of the people, is very similar to being in a forest with the song of the birds. [without it] something is not quite right. In this case, it is about Covid being among all of us and the decision that was made to ensure the safety and well-being of all.”

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Commenting on the rain falling over much of the North Island, Tipene said that, in his memory, he has never been to a Waitangi Day where it poured down.

The Waka lands on the beach and a haka is performed in 2021 in Waitangi, New Zealand.
The Waka lands on the beach and a haka is performed in 2021 in Waitangi, New Zealand. This year offered an opportunity for reflection and change, said Pita Tipene, president of the Waitangi National Trust Board. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“That in itself is a tohu, a sign,” he said, adding that he sees the rain in Waitangi, which translates as “weeping water,” as a positive sign for reflection and change. “It is time to put this nation on the course that our tupuna envisioned. [ancestors], when they signed it 182 years ago.”

That includes looking ahead to the bicentennial of the treaty in 18 years. “I am encouraging all leaders, including political leaders, to start having, in a very useful way, conversations about what nationality means and what are some tangible symbols that could be brought to Waitangi and other parts of the country by 2040. ”.

Treaty ‘obliges us to consider and respect our differences’

In a pre-recorded speech, Ardern said that while people are unable to gather because of the treaty, “the day remains of great importance to us as a nation.”

“In previous speeches you have heard me use the metaphor that ‘Aotearoa will always have clouds,’ to represent the challenges we must overcome today and in the future.

“How we must continue to seize every opportunity to cross the bridge, te arawhiti and unite our two worlds. And how we must work in partnership to improve outcomes for Maori and all New Zealanders.

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“While we always have more work to do, mahi is never done, it’s important to take some time and reflect.”

Ardern reflected on some of the year’s milestones: New Zealand’s pandemic response, which led to some of the best health outcomes in the world; a new school curriculum that will include the teaching of New Zealand history; and 2022 will become the first year that Matariki, the Maori New Year celebration, will be honored as a public holiday.

But he acknowledged that the government still had a way to go to reverse poverty, housing inequality and poor health outcomes for Māori. “If we’re going to make progress as a nation, we have to be willing to challenge practices that have resulted time and time again in the same or worse outcomes,” Ardern said.

“What we all want in general for our people is the same. The same opportunity to develop our potential. To live a decent life. To make decisions for ourselves. How we get there will be different. That is association. That is building the bridge.”

Waitangi Day in 2021 saw many gatherings and activities.
Waitangi Day in 2021 saw many gatherings and activities. Photo: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti or Waitangi, was signed by Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840, and has been commemorated as a public holiday since 1974, for two years as “New Zealand Day” before reverting to the treaty name foundational. treaty. It has often been the scene of demonstrations, with Maori protesting the lack of progress in fighting inequality and continued treaty violations.

In Ardern’s first Waitangi Day speech in 2018, he urged Maori to continue holding the government to account. Last year, the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that the government had breached the treaty by paying little attention to the needs of Maori in its response to the pandemic. Tipene said the government had not yet been held accountable on some issues, but added that, compared to many previous governments, it was more open to conversation and debate.

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Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, the first Maori woman to hold the title, used her first Waitangi Day address to acknowledge the many sacrifices New Zealanders had made during the pandemic and to thank those who have borne the burden of keeping the Maori safe. country.

“Covid-19 has reminded us again of the burdens and privileges of citizenship – the duty of care and respect that we share as New Zealanders. That was also the message passed on to us by our ancestors who signed Te Tiriti or Waitangi. It is the great leveler of our nation: a moral and social contract that binds us all equally.

Kiro likened the treaty to a “sacred marriage covenant”. “The vows made at the beginning do not end there. Rather, those vows provide the basis for a lasting commitment.

“Throughout our history, we have not always fulfilled the commitment made by our ancestors 182 years ago. And while we can’t change our past, we can draw wisdom from it. We can see the treaty, not as a burden, but as a gift, because it obliges us to consider and respect our differences, and to unite virtuous ideals with courageous actions”.

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