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  • Thu, 1, Feb, 2018 - 5:00:AM

A brief history of utterly terrible takes on Waitangi Day

Image: Waitangi Day celebrations / Rebecca Cox / Flickr

Waitangi Day is just around the corner, which means that thinly-veiled racism season has begun. It’s that time of year when seemingly every man and his dog has something to say about our national day. If indeed they think it should be our national day at all.

Hot takes about Waitangi Day are about as Koi-woi as fish and chips. Which means that they’re not really that Kiwi at all, given that racism against indigenous people is something that happens in many places around the world, just like fish and chip consumption.

It’s at this time of year that I look back and try to ascertain how far we’ve come. When a poll on one of the most popular breakfast shows recently asked whether we should change the name of Waitangi Day to ‘New Zealand Day’, I found myself wondering whether we’re in a time warp.  

It was the most tone deaf thing I’d heard in a while. Across the ditch they’re currently grappling with their happy-happy-put-another-sausage-on-the-barbie national day, with a growing faction rightly pointing out that the day commemorates the day that Australia was, in essence, invaded. Here in New Zealand we have a suitably honest national day that meets our uncomfortable history head on, and what are we doing? Talking about following Australia’s example and sweeping colonialism under the rug.

Are we in 2018, or 1958?

So I decided to take a trip down memory lane, meandering through the bad, the awful and the utterly terrible opinion pieces written about Waitangi Day. Because I keep hearing that we’ve ‘come a long way’, but I’m not convinced. I fear that we still have rather a long way to go.

The first and worst would have to be the late Sir Paul Holmes’ 2012 column entitled ‘Waitangi Day a complete waste’. In the piece, Holmes wrote:

“I'm over Waitangi Day. It is repugnant. It's a ghastly affair. As I lie in bed on Waitangi morning, I know that later that evening, the news will show us irrational Māori ghastliness with spitting, smugness, self-righteousness and the usual neurotic Māori politics, in which some bizarre new wrong we've never thought about will be lying on the table.”

Holmes wasn’t finished.

“Well, it's a bullshit day, Waitangi. It's a day of lies. It is loony Māori fringe self-denial day. It's a day when everything is addressed, except the real stuff. Never mind the child stats, never mind the national truancy stats, never mind the hopeless failure of Māori to educate their children and stop them bashing their babies. No, it's all the Pakeha's fault. It's all about hating whitey. Believe me, that's what it looked like the other day.”

And that was written in 2012. Just six years ago.

Another steaming pile of reckons worthy of mention is Mike Hosting’s 2016 rant about ‘Why NZ’s national day is such a mess’.

“From our ‘why do we get sucked into it every year file’ comes this year’s version of the media falling over themselves in dealing with Waitangi Day.” Hosking began.

That particular year, the Government was facing harsh criticism about its handling of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, and tensions surrounding the issue had erupted in the lead-up to Waitangi Day. Referring to the media coverage of the furore, Hosking said, “by the end of the day you were reminded of just why this country’s so-called ‘national day’ is such a mess, such an embarrassment, and one that most of us treat as nothing more than a day off as opposed to a proper day of recognition.”

And to round it off?

“If I was Prime Minister I’d be seriously tempted to simply flag Waitangi. What’s the point? It’s an annual ritual of abuse, anger, and ignorance.”

Thankfully, Hosking is not the Prime Minister.

And Waitangi Day doesn’t just get the boot in specially dedicated columns, it also gets the odd jab almost out of the blue, as it did in Bob Jones’ 2012 column suggesting that we should change the dates of our public holidays.

“Given the annual show-pony behaviour by Māori exhibitionists, I suspect most New Zealanders would gladly replace Waitangi Day with a different date, New Zealand Day,” Jones wrote.

“The test for retention [of public holidays] should be the extent the public actually celebrates the reason for the holiday, in which case out would go Queen's Birthday, Waitangi, Labour Day and provincial days.”

Because who needs to commemorate moments of historical importance?

Waitangi Day is also sometimes used as an excuse to go off on wild tangents, as David Seymour did in his 2016 Sunday Star Times column.

“Like almost all Kiwis I have always avoided Waitangi on the big day. Images of protesters, crying prime ministers, and actual mud-slinging are enough to put most people off.  If you've ever been in Sydney for Australia Day, you'll know how much better our national day could be,” Seymour wrote, before embarking on a rambling diatribe that encompassed the TPPA, an entrepreneurial Māori sawmill owner from the 1800s, a free trade agreement with China and a proposal for an annual Waitangi Day road show.

And so on and so forth. There are many other columns from years past that are worthy of re-reading for the sheer astonishment they produce. And I imagine that the situation would become even more depressing if you started to look through the physical print archives.

But, with all that said, I haven’t yet seen anything that has made my blood boil this year, apart from that idiotic The AM Show poll. There are still five days to go until the actual day dawns, so there is still time, but for now I am cautiously hopeful.

Could this be the year when we actually make progress?

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  • Waitangi Day /
  • Maori /
  • Pakeha /
  • Paul Holmes /
  • Mike Hosking /
  • David Seymour /
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