February 6th 1840. A lot of Maori and Europeans in New Zealand got together on this day to sign what has now become New Zealand’s founding document. A document that has slightly different meanings in the two languages in which it was written, and was (and still remains) a source of conflict, misunderstanding and anger. Nearly 180 years later, we still celebrate it, only it is called Waitangi Day and is surrounded by media stirring racial hype but mostly by Kiwis taking the day off work.
Here in Vancouver there are enough proud Kiwis that Waitangi Day got celebrated (and if you notice in the poster, it happened on Feb 1st, not 6th, the 1st being a Saturday and the 6th being a Thursday). When I lived in NZ, Waitangi Day was more about the fact it was a public holiday – and I think this is true for many. I gave some thought to the fact that this is our country’s founding document, but those thoughts quickly got clouded by the tensions and strife that misinterpretations (or correct interpretations of the two versions?) of the documents created, and the racial tensions that could easily be felt – from both sides. But living overseas, and seeing how Kiwis are so quick to celebrate Waitangi Day, so quick to celebrate being a Kiwi, was actually really nice to experience.
We all packed into a pub in downtown Van, and in true Kiwi style, beer was flowing (ok, this is not really my scene, but we were in a pub). Raffles were sold and drawn, meat packs won, t-shirts sold. TVs played old NZ ads, Billy T popped up a couple of times, the stereo blasted only NZ music, minties were given away, New Zealand wine was drunk, Steinlager was for sale. Voices got louder, laughter got louder, ok time for me to exit.
One thing I do like about being overseas, Kiwis come together to celebrate Waitangi Day, without any agenda, without caring who is Pakeha or Maori or a mix or something else. We were there just because we are Kiwi. We were there because we are proud of our country and where we come from. We were there because we get “O for awesome”. So cheers to you New Zealand. And here’s to future Waitangi Days where the media doesn’t create a racial angle to sell the papers, and Kiwis can celebrate coming from Aotearoa.