‘Sustain this resistance’: Waitangi activists urge momentum and unity

The Waitangi Dawn Service 2024.

The Waitangi dawn service 2024.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Organisers and activists have praised the atmosphere at Waitangi Day commemorations, calling for the crowds to carry the sense of unity and momentum forward with them.

Thousands of people gathered before dawn in the Bay of Islands on Tuesday to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi, amid heightened tensions between the coalition Government and Māori.

Among them were about a thousand people who took part in a four-day hīkoi from Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga, in protest of ACT’s bid to redefine the Treaty principles.

On arrival this morning, hīkoi organiser Rueben Taipari (Te Rarawa) called on those gathered to not just go home and return to their individual lives.

“Sustain this resistance, sustain this solidarity, sustain this kotahitanga, whānau – and we will find our freedom.”

The organiser of the hikoi, Rueben Taipari.

The organiser of the hīkoi, Rueben Taipari.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Taipari, from Ahipara, said the six-day Hīkoi ki Waitangi had been held almost every year since 1985.

Crowds on Waitangi Bridge watching the Waka parade.

Crowds on Waitangi Bridge watching the waka parade.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Talking about the speeches on Monday, the day before the Treaty anniversary, Taipari said he had never seen Winston Peters shouted down before.

“I mihi to that young generation. This new generation coming through now, it’s a powerful generation. They are the raukura, they are the graduates of kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare wananga. They don’t have a struggle with who they are… so we need to support that new generation.

“We have the experience, but they have the energy.”

Haka, waiata and speeches rang out across the Treaty grounds all morning.

Mary Anne Vogt, a Hikurangi Māori Warden, said it was the best atmosphere she had experienced in close to four decades of attendance.

“Everyone is feeling the wairua is totally different this year – I don’t know why.”

She suggested it was a combination of the current political climate and the opportunity for debate and discussion that Waitangi tends to allow.

Crowds on Waitangi Bridge watching the Waka parade.

Crowds on Waitangi Bridge watching the waka parade.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Waitangi Trust chair Pita Tipene welcomed everyone and said the massive crowds were vastly different from when the country was stuck in the grip of Covid-19.

“Several years ago when this commemoration and therefore this dawn service was not held because of the pressures of Covid, I nonetheless came here with my mokopuna.

“We were the only ones here, so when I look out at the throng of people it’s very different to that morning when we sat here on the maho and I was forced to give karakia myself.”

Tipene said moving forward as a nation means we were also moving forward as individuals “learning from each other”.

“When we learn to live with each other and our personal circumstances, I think we can all move forward too.”

Alistair Reese told the crowds Henry Williams, an Anglican priest who translated the English draft of the Treaty in Māori and explained its provisions to Māori leaders, told the chiefs that the Treaty was “Queen Victoria’s act of love to you”.

Reese said the Treaty was understood by many as a “sacrificial union”.

“It is an ethic that seeks the best outcome for the other and to paraphrase the apostle Paul, love is patient, love is kind, love does not dishonour others and love never fails.

“So if the Treaty was an act of love by Victoria to Māori, by extension it needs also to be an act of love by our government to Māori,” he said.

The Prime Minister Christopher Luxon shared a bible reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 about working as one body.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the Treaty was the country’s guide to navigating the challenges in partnership.

“Te Tiriti binds us together as we work towards a fairer Aotearoa, in which all of our people can flourish and prosper, [it] inspires us to be kind, to be compassionate, to be grateful and to do good.”

Departing Greens co-leader James Shaw chose a popular quote about love and Tina Turner’s “what’s love got to do with it” was also quoted in the speeches.

‘We’ve got a lot of work to do’ – PM

Waitangi Day 2024 Feb 6

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks at the Treaty Grounds, Waitangi Day 2024.
Photo: RNZ

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told RNZ’s Waitangi Day programme he wanted a country that was unified but respected differences too.

“I actually think that’s what’s amazing about Waitangi … where else on Earth would you see everyone, with all the diverse sets of opinions and views … actually all choose to come together and express those views in one place. I can’t think of any country that does it, I think it’s very unique and special.”

He said he had been inspired.

He visited a settlement on Friday with “third world housing in a first-world country”.

Luxon said the solution to housing was easing the consenting process, partnering up with iwi, and getting the money to the community to provide housing.

“When you look at the issues across Māoridom …. we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Speaking about increased attention on ACT and New Zealand First, Luxon said that was the reality of MMP.

“New Zealand First, ACT and National are all very united on getting houses built for Māori up and down this country, so that’s where we have great commonality.”

Nearby, hundreds of people also watched the waka parade earlier on Tuesday.

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