Waitangi Day started as it usually would, the raising of the flag, a pōwhiri, and formal speeches. Except in 2022, it was mostly virtual.
The Waitangi National Trust announced in December 2021 that any formal Waitangi commemorations would take place online this year, due to the uncertainty of Covid-19, and the risk the virus posed to our communities.
“Welcome to Waitangi day 2022, a virtual experience,” Pita Tipene, Waitangi National Trust Board chair said on Sunday morning to officially kick events off.
Every year, Waitangi hau kāinga welcome visitors from around the country to the Upper Treaty Grounds.
Tens of thousands gather to commemorate the signing of the historic document, including the Prime Minister, iwi leaders, politicians and members of the public.
This year’s official events were mostly pre-recorded and aired on TV3 due to the country being in the Red light traffic setting, and the threat of Omicron.
The flotilla of waka which usually take to the water to pay homage to rangatira who signed the treaty still did so this year, but due to the red traffic light setting they didn’t land at the beach.
Tipene’s address was followed by the pōwhiri, which actually took place in person at the Upper Treaty Grounds two weeks ago.
Jacinda Ardern, Dame Cindy Kiro and many others were welcomed onto Te Whare Rūnanga with karanga, and the traditional wero, or challenge.
Whaikōrero followed, with men from both the hau kāinga, and the visitors speaking in te reo Māori.
Once formal pōwhiri proceedings on the marae ended, many other leaders from around the country, including the Prime Minister spoke of the day’s significance, and what it meant to them.
Tā Pou Temara (Ngāi Tūhoe), an esteemed Māori leader, stood as kaikōrero, but he also stood to make an address on behalf of the nation.
“Waitangi has been a place of tears, shared in grief. Waitangi has been a place of weeping in anguish. Waitangi has been a place of anger, of protest and of descent,” Temara said.
“Waitangi, the place upon which the treaty was signed, reminds us that we are far from reaching equality. That we are far from being equal.
“If only I could have equality in my lifetime.”
His sentiments of inequality were echoed by Justice Sir Joe Williams (Ngāti Pukenga, Waitaha, Tapuika), the first Māori judge to be appointed to the supreme court.
Williams said though the nation’s attitude towards Māori had changed since when he was a kid, there was still a way to go.
“We’ve got a long way to go in giving flesh to that mutuality of respect.
“But now we can at least say that there is momentum behind the basic idea that Māoritanga is important, not just to me, a Māori, but to everybody. Once we get to that point the path is much smoother.
“Because when I was a kid, that was not the case. Māoritanga was completely disrespected. That’s changed.”
Ardern’s message, also delivered virtually, saw her acknowledge challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how this year marked 50 years since the te reo Māori petition was presented to Parliament.
“I am proud of the mahi, past and present, to ensure that this taonga is preserved, spoken and flourishing as a living language that connects us to our heritage here and throughout the Pacific.”
She vowed to return to Waitangi in person, when she could.
“Across Aotearoa there are stories of our arrival, stories of settlement, stories of conflict and of unity, of hope and hardship.
“These stories are our stories. And learning, sharing and acknowledging these stories that trace back to many different shores is crucial to our connections to one another.”
Kiro delivered her first Waitangi Day address as Governor-General. She is the first wahine Māori to be in the role.
“When I think of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, I hear my Ngāpuhi grandmother’s words: ‘The Treaty is a sacred covenant between two peoples.’
“I believe she meant that Te Tiriti is something to honour, respect, and promote as a standard for principled action over time, and her words have guided my thinking on the Treaty ever since.”