Thursday, 6 February 2014

waitangi day reflections

another waitangi day almost over.  in terms of public discourse, it has gone the way of most waitangi days.  people complaining about the negativity, about how the day has no meaning for them, how we should have another day where we can talk about unity, isn't anzac day so much better as a celebration of nz.  etc etc etc

well, i went along to the event put on by the hamilton city council, at 7am in civic square.  we started with a powhiri, then had a few speeches, some songs & refreshment.  a few years back, we used to have a full day of events at innes common, by the lake, but funding was pulled and that doesn't happen anymore.  it used to be a celebration of many cultures, but the faces in the audience were almost universally brown, as they were today.

so now we get this hour and a half in the early morning.  and a very sanitised affair it is.  no protest here, just like the herald has been boasting today.  because we want to commemorate a sanitised version of history, where we all get to feel good about ourselves and never have to question the way our society is structured or the injustices that have happened before and are happening today.

tim macindoe was actually specific in echoing the herald's line that there should be no protests on this day (can't remember the exact words).  he, as so many other people around the country have no doubt done, called for unity.  but what does this call for unity mean?  the unity they're talking about sounds like one where marginalised people stay silent, never say anything uncomfortable.  it's a unity based on a dominant group continuing to dominate and marginalised groups not challenging that domination.  it's a unity based on unfairness and inequity.

we could also have unity if the dominant group accepted the injustices, talked about them in an honest and respectful way, were prepared to listen & understand, and maybe even stay silent themselves for a while.  but i very much doubt that this is the kind of unity we are talking about.

waitangi day is a time when the media is present, when they are reporting, when the nation is paying attention.  if this is not the time to raise issues then when is?  the fact is that there will never be a good time.  the fact is that the people calling for unity or disparaging waitangi day never want to hear what protesters have to say and never want to hear a full and fair telling of our history.

this is in fact a freedom of speech issue. to call for waitangi day to no longer be our national day, to call for an oppressors version of unity, is in fact an attempt to silence certain voices.  the kind of voices that very rarely get a chance to be heard in the first place.

this morning, the mayor talked hamilton's 150th anniversary being this year, and she did have the grace to say it was the anniversary of european settlement of this city.  i hope that isn't just because of the tainui kaumatua in the audience, i hope that she continues to say this in front of all audiences.  but it's too much to hope that the commemorations will talk about what that settlement has meant for local iwi.  no-one used the words confiscation or land theft in their speeches today, but that is an inescapable part of the history of this city - so much of it is built on confiscated land.  how can we have any kind of commemorations or celebrations that fail to mention that fact.

this is our history.  warts and all.  it needs to be told.  warts and all.  anything less is wrong, yet another injustice to add to the history of injustice.  why on earth do we need to hide from our own history, or retell it in a way that leaves the important bits out?  if it makes some people uncomfortable, then maybe those people need to do a little self-reflection.  it's not like anyone is blaming them for what happened in the past - at the most, they will be shown how past events have led to them having a more privileged place in society today.  again, i'm failing to see how that's a bad thing.

waitangi day is the best day for our national day.  it's a day when we should be political as well as historically focussed, a day when we should feel both proud and sad, a day when we should reflect on both the good and the bad because that's who we are.  it should be a tumultuous and challenging day, not a day of false unity based on suppression of voices.

happy waitangi day to all of you.  and read this, it's lovely.

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