New Zealand has a very strong population of indigenous people. They have fought for their rights and remembrance for many decades, and one of their long-lived protests concerns the country’s national holiday. Every year on February 6, New Zealand commemorates its inception in Waitangi, a locality on the North Island. The Treaty Of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by the British colonists and hundreds of Māori chiefs, proclaims the foundation of a new country and regulates the status of the natives as British subjects who can own land. What Māori find controversial in Tiriti o Waitangi is that some points of it are unjust and that their ancestors were fooled by the Pākehā people and tricked into signing it. Although annual celebrations in the Waitangi Treaty House are regularly protested against, many people believe that the holiday is a symbol of unity between the British and the native.
First observances of this event were held on January 29, the date of William Hobson’s initial British proclamation in the Bay of Islands. In 1932, however, Governor-General Lord Bledisloe bought the Treaty House (owned in 1840 by James Busby) and in 1934 offered it as a public space for the treaty’s celebration, hoping this would unite the nation. The centennial of the Waitangi Day was a success, and in 1947 yearly observance of the holiday began. Prominent figures participated regularly, like the Governor-General since 1952 and the Prime Minister since 1958. That is when indigenous communities started taking part in the celebration, performing during ceremonies and giving speeches. The first attempt to make Waitangi Day a public holiday resulted in the Waitangi Day Act 1960, which issued the possibility to exchange it with local province observances. The final date of the holiday was set due to the Amendment Act of 1963; prior to that, it had been held on the Monday closest to January 29. The holiday has been renamed a few times, changing between Waitangi Day and New Zealand Day. In 1974 it became a legal holiday thanks to the New Zealand Day Act passed the preceding year. In 2013, Waitangi Day has been Mondayised.
Waitangi Day celebrations are usually low-key, with only small ceremonies in the Treaty House and shy commemorations across the country. This might be the result of resistance with which the event is met. Starting from the 1980s, organized groups such as the Waitangi Action Committee struggle so as to stop the celebrations. Some protests are based on the one by Hone Heke, who in the 19th century destroyed the British flagstaff. The flag is an important symbol of the day, since many a time the strikers try to fly the Tino Rangatiratanga banner above British Union flags. Not all indigenous people oppose the Waitangi Day, emphasizing the importance of awareness concerning the treaty. A famous tradition throughout the whole New Zealand are re-enactments of the Treaty of Waitangi, held in the James Busby house, but also at schools and universities in the country. There also occur some joyous celebrations of the day, involving multicultural parades and naval salutes.
Waitangi Day is a public holiday in New Zealand, which is why institutions, businesses and schools are expected to close, though there are no special restrictions on commerce. It is a holiday known for controversy, questions about national identity, and attempts at uniting citizens. Although the Treaty of Waitangi might not be the most glorious and fair document, it does mark the inception of New Zealand and is a significant date in every life of the country’s inhabitants.