Marlborough Express - Waitangi Day reflections

Columns
Friday, February 13, 2015

Waitangi Day is always an important day on our national calendar. It reminds us of our bicultural heritage and the partnership entered into 175 years ago, on February 6, 1840, when New Zealand's most significant document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed.

It is appropriate that as a nation we reflect on this relationship as we work together to resolve issues and build a positive future for all New Zealanders.
Last week, as part of this year's celebrations, I had the privilege of joining the prime minister and other parliamentary colleagues at the Waitangi celebrations at Te Tii Marae. It was my first time at Waitangi and I was very pleased to be able to be there representing the Kaikoura electorate.

The entry onto the lower marae was a particularly memorable occasion as it was my first visit to Pahia and to the Treaty Grounds.

Guests listened to more than 45 speeches before local kaumatua escorted the prime minister's party onto the marae itself. I came away encouraged that while there are issues to be dealt with regarding Treaty settlements and legitimate grievances, there are many Maori taking up opportunities offered for the betterment of iwi and whanau.

In places like Northland, there are opportunities offered by a Treaty settlement to make improvements in areas like jobs, education and housing but it is up to the local iwi, Ngapuhi, to decide whether to enter into Treaty negotiations, not the government to dictate.

Waitangi has a reputation for political debate on current issues as they affect both Maori and Pakeha.

This year was no exception with references being made to housing, health, deep sea drilling, wars and water. However, robust debate is essential in a democracy.

At a local level, I enjoyed attending the celebrations at Waikawa Marae on Saturday. I joined 40 or more locals and visitors from around New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom who took part in the Te Ra Whakakotahi Waitangi Day gala.

After a powhiri there was a guided tour through the whare and the marae. The entertainment ensured that the event had a local flavour and was not only informative but also very enjoyable.

John Key said in his speech at Waitangi, "It's a day when we draw confidence for our future from the sense of our past." I felt the same having visited maraes at Te Tii and Waikawa.