Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The New critics of Waitangi

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Political Roundup by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards.

Is anyone happy with how Waitangi Day is observed? This year’s criticism and protests were quite different, leading to increased suggestions for change.

There are always complaints about Waitangi Day but this year Maori leaders and commentators were at the forefront of increased criticism. Much of this was directed against Ngapuhi for the way it handled arrangements at the lower marae.

The most interesting critique came from Willie Jackson – a long-time Maori protestor, activist, politician and broadcaster – in his response to “the latest bout of madness” over the PM’s invitation to Waitangi – see: Time to end the Waitangi stupidity

Jackson blames a lack of leadership in Ngapuhi, which he says is surprising given the amount of talent in the iwi: “I have a lot of admiration for Northern Maori or Ngapuhi, they have produced some of Maoridom’s finest advocates and leaders… But somehow, come Waitangi Day, that leadership just disappears.” He concludes “If Ngapuhi leadership refuse to respond then the future of Waitangi Day being celebrated as our National day will no doubt be threatened yet again.”

Few of Jackson’s leaders appeared to intervene to fix Ngapuhi’s problems over the PM’s invite, but there were certainly many Maori leaders – from within and outside of Ngapuhi – who made strident criticisms of what occurred. Former MP Shane Jones was possibly the harshest, saying “Unfortunately all Tai Tokerau (Northland) tribes are tainted by the Te Tii Marae circus. Their decision that the PM could go on the Marae but not talk makes a mockery of Marae culture” – see Stuff’s Shane Jones throws weight behind shifting Government welcome to Waitangi away from Ti Tii marae.

RNZ also reported Jones saying that “the lower marae had turned into a fools’ paradise” and “Waitangi’s welcome ceremony was being held hostage by the trustees of one marae, who had no mandate from other Maori in their decisions” – see: Waitangi was “ridiculous scenario” – Key.

Winston Peters also spoke out strongly declaring “This is our national day. We’re the only country in the world who craps all over our national day” – see Marika Hill’s Waitangi: sex toys and politics. He pointed the finger at his own iwi, saying “It’s high time for Ngapuhi leadership to front up and if they can’t be leaders step aside for someone who can.”  

Even Hone Harawira was highly critical of Ngapuhi’s actions, saying “They handled the whole thing really badly”. Jo Moir reported that on the decision to disinvite the PM, Harawira “abstained from voting but said his mother and other leaders had “put themselves in a situation of real jeopardy” by allowing the vote in the first place: “It’s a national marae and Ngapuhi are the guardians of it. What they should have done is asked other leaders from other areas for their opinion, listened to them and then decided. They didn’t have to take a vote” – see: Division amongst Ngapuhi leaders is putting the brakes on John Key going to Waitangi.

Labour MP Peeni Henare told Radio Waatea that Ngapuhi had allowed the mana of Te Tii Marae to be “dragged through the mud” – see Waatea News’ Mixed messages muddy Te Tii mana. Henare is reported as saying Key should have been given more respect, as “the tikanga is that the person holding the floor should be listened to respectfully, and it’s a missed opportunity the tribes can’t hear what the Prime Minister has to say”.

Some tribal leaders have spoken out. On Saturday, Te Kotahitanga co-chair Pita Tipene said Ngapuhi had embarrassed itself this yearand he called for a change to the way Waitangi Day is celebrated – see TVNZ’s Ngapuhi ’embarrassed itself’ at Waitangi this year – leader

Former Herald reporter on Maori issues, Jon Stokes, is annoyed that Maoridom and Ngapuhi allowed the TPP to become the focus of Waitangi Day, suggesting that more pressing political issues could have been chosen – such as “inequality and housing” – see: Waitangi grandstanding wasted opportunity for Maori. He says “Imagine Waitangi commemorations focused, for example, on analysing why Maori suffer far more deprivation and inequality than non-Maori in our society and seeking solutions and Government support.” And Stokes suggests the latest controversy “demonstrates the poor leadership and inability to co-ordinate across Maoridom”.

In a similar vein, the Otago Daily Times editorial, The road to Waitangi, also makes a plea for a re-focus on Maori “deprivation and inequality” in the politics around Waitangi. 

Alan Duff calls Ngapuhi’s actions “mass bullying, at its worst” – see: Ngapuhi should show some respect. He ponders how it would be seen if “the boot on the other foot and Parliament promises a hostile welcome to a Ngapuhi delegation wanting to visit.  There would be an uproar. And rightly so… If Ngapuhi leaders were jostled and yelled at, spat on, jeered, had ferocious haka done in their faces, do you think they’d be ‘happy, happy, joy, joy’, as Hone Harawira put it?”

Reform of Waitangi Day?

Interestingly the messages of such Maori commentators and leaders were broadly in line with those expressed earlier by Mike Hosking in his two-minute video, Why NZ’s national day is a mess. In this, Hosking claimed that Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua was a broken record who “drums up the same crap every year.”

Other pakeha commentators and media have also been critical of how Waitangi Day is observed, and spoken of reform. On TVNZ, Katie Bradford put together a useful three-minute item looking at different ideas on how to celebrate the national day – see: Key’s Waitangi boycott sparks debate about how we celebrate our National Day

Brian Rudman has come out and said “The annual humiliation of prime ministers at Waitangi’s lower marae needs to be knocked on the head for good” – see: Dildo jape distracts from the real issue. He calls the contemporary Te Tii Marae arrangements “tiresome” and complains of them being hi-jacked by a “boring pantomime”. 

Rudman calls for major reform: “Mr Key and Mr Little should be following Helen Clark’s lead and de-Waitangiing Waitangi Day. In 1840 after all, the Treaty was carried around the country for eight months after the Waitangi event, with meetings and signings taking place in over 50 places, from the Far North to Ruapuke Island in Foveaux Strait. So there are plenty of other places our leaders can go to mark the signing.  Alternatively, there are community events up and down the country.”

Act leader David Seymour, who is “of Ngapuhi descent”, also proposed a rotating location – see: Spread the love – take Waitangi Day on the road. He says “If an iwi is going to host representatives of the Crown to symbolise this 176-year-old relationship, why not rotate the host iwi and location? It could be in a different place each year, following the actual path that the Treaty took during 1840.  Ngāpuhi have denied the whole country a proud national day just one time too many. It is time to take this show on the road. There were 20-odd signing locations so it’ll come back around in 2036.”

Similarly, see David Farrar’s Jones says shift Waitangi Day celebrations. He says: “Why not shift it around New Zealand and allow different Iwi to host it? I’m sure Ngai Tahu would put on an exceptionally good Waitangi Day, for example.  You could rotate it among all the Iwi that have completed Treaty settlements with the Crown.”

Peter Dunne says we should “scrap Queen’s Birthday and turn that into a national day for New Zealand” – see: Dunne: Should there be two national days? Under Dunne’s scenario, the country would “have two national days – a day we celebrate the signing of the treaty, and a day we set aside to be our national day”.

Do the existing arrangements even adequately reflect Maoridom? John Roughan, a regular attendee at Waitangi, thinks not: “I’d noticed the number of visiting iwi diminishing in latter years. Elders no longer speak at the dawn karakia. People sit on chairs and clerics say a few prayers. The protests are no longer about land loss and resources, just standard left-wing issues of the day such as asset sales and the TPP” – see: Waitangi event has lost mana

Duncan Garner says Ngapuhi’s treatment of John Key this year was “mad, stupid and short-sighted, and I hope other iwi present tell him so too.  If iwi have an issue it’s best they welcome Key onto the marae and have it out with him verbally. Banning him does nothing” – see: Kingi Taurua shouldn’t block Key over TPP. Garner followed this up, saying “Key should go and celebrate the day with the rest of the country and turn his back on these people, for good. He should never return. This is their loss. It’s pathetic” – see: Ngāpuhi nuts to block PM

Many newspaper editorials have been in line with this – for example the Dominion Post said that Maori opposition to the Government should protest rather than seek to undemocratically censor the PM – see: Trying to silence the prime minister is an anti-democratic act

However there are many who do actually want the PM to return to the lower marae at Waitangi – including John Key himself. And some are calling for divine intervention to make it happen. At Waitangi “Te Ururoa Flavell prayed for Mr Key’s return next year” and “Steven Joyce offered a prayer on behalf of the Government at the service” to see Key’s return – see TVNZ: Ngapuhi ’embarrassed itself’ at Waitangi this year – leader

Labour leader Andrew Little has some mixed messages about the issue. At times he has appeared to side with Key over the Ngapuhi confusion, but he has also complained about Key not turning up, saying that if Little had been PM, “I would have turned up as an act of courage and leadership.”  – see Marika Hill’s Waitangi: sex toys and politics. One commentator says he’s having “a bob each way”.

In thinking about any future Waitangi Day reform, there’s a long history that needs to be taken into account. The Herald has published a very interesting Brief history of Waitangi Day. This includes the fact that in 1974 the day “was made a nationwide public holiday under Norman Kirk’s Labour Government and renamed New Zealand Day in a move towards a broader definition of nationhood. In 1976, when Rob Muldoon’s National Government came into power, the new name was dropped because Muldoon ‘didn’t like it’.”

And for some thoughtful ideas about the future of Treaty relations, see Bruce Munro’s feature, A Treaty for our times. In this, Janine Hayward suggests that although Treaty settlements are progress, “that is economic independence, not political. We are yet to have the conversation about that.” And Jacinta Ruru foreshadows “a morphing of our law into something that is not Pakeha law nor Maori law, but something new and distinctly New Zealand.”

Liberal responses to Waitangi criticisms

It’s not just Maori or conservatives with problems about how Waitangi Day is observed. A number of liberal commentators have also complained – albeit normally about the lack of respect for Waitangi Day in New Zealand, or about proposals to reform the day. The most interesting is James Robins’ “New Zealand Day” is a white supremacist dream

Robins examines those wanting to reform Waitangi Day and asks: “What is this if not white supremacy in action?” He says those proposing a new national day “would forcibly cleanse Māori influence on commemorations, therefore white-washing New Zealand’s bloody colonial past and doing away with need for constant apology.”

Similar allegations of racism are made by Lizzie Marvelly in My Waitangi Day one of joy and celebration. She complains that Waitangi Day is “a beacon for many forms of rabid ignorance”, and that criticisms are “inevitably tainted with racism, both thinly veiled and overt” – mostly from “those who have never had the opportunity to learn about its significance”. 

Some are even willing to teach the critics why they are wrong. History and religious studies lecturer Hirini Kaa says: “Have I got an opportunity for you! I would like to invite you this semester to enrol in my history course at the University of Auckland Waitangi: Treaty to Tribunal” – see: Dear Mike Hosking – I saw your Waitangi rant, and I can help

But for a quick history lesson, Martyn Bradbury offers a blog post: As we stumble towards another Waitangi Day – how racist is NZ really?

Guy Williams makes some similar points in a more humorous column, Why I love Waitangi Day. He argues that “Saying Waitangi Day should be called “New Zealand Day” is like saying Christmas should be called ‘Jesus’ Birthday Day’.” He proposes: “A day of celebration and remembrance, where we can all come together as a nation, have a barbecue, and chuck a clump of mud at Don Brash.”

And Lachlan Forsyth says that the Waitangi critics are best ignored: “I’m going to respond to those angry editorials and those ignorant rants with a big, fat yawn. Why?” – see: No more Waitangi Day bollocks

The notion that New Zealand could learn from Australia’s national day has many exasperated. For example, Toby Manhire comments on the idea of a national day: “You know, like Australia Day. Or, as thousands of Aboriginal Aussies call it, Survival Day, or sometimes Invasion Day: a cause not for celebration but for sorrow” – see: Key’s Waitangi decision a victory for those who long for a national day more like Australia’s celebration

TPP and Maori

Much of the heightened Waitangi mood this year has been blamed on the TPP. There is the idea that both the TPP and the Treaty of Waitangi have much in common, especially in the erosion of sovereignty. This is a point humorously made in Andrew Gunn’s column, When treaties collide.

This is why Toby Manhire suggests that the Government’s arrangement to hold the formal TPP signing just days before Waitangi Day was highly provocative – see: Key’s Waitangi decision a victory for those who long for a national day more like Australia’s celebration

Nonetheless, “Linking the Treaty to TPP has been a disaster for the left” says Audrey Young in Maori opposition to TPP means silent Kiwis will back Key. She believes that much of the public who are suspicious of the TPP will be nudged in its favour, thinking “If Hone Harawira thinks the TPP is bad for the Treaty of Waitangi, it must be good.”  

If the TPP is so bad for Maori, Patrick Gower asks, “why didn’t Māori make a song and dance like this when Labour signed the massive free trade deal with China in 2008?  Truth is, they were nowhere to be seen” – see: Did huge TPP protests force Key to re-think Waitangi?

The dildo protest

The biggest news to come out of Waitangi Day this year was the unusual protest in which a “squeaky toy penis” was thrown at Steven Joyce. The TPP protestor, Josie Butler, yelled at Joyce, “that’s for raping our sovereignty”. She explains this to the Mana Party’s Joe Trinder on the Daily Blog – see: Josie Butler – Why I threw the dildo at Steven Joyce. Elaborating on the rape allegation, she says “The TPPA is the rape of our tino rangitiratanga, the torture our basic human rights, and the murder of our people.”

Today Rosemary McLeod takes issue with the use of rape metaphors in politics – see her column, Playing rape for laughs undermines the crime. She argues that “We shouldn’t undermine the serious criminality of rape by accusing people of it every time they annoy us.”

Some of Butler’s fellow protestors were apparently less than impressed – see Marika Hill’s story, Prime Minister John Key target of flying-dildo Waitangi protest

Others thought that throwing a projectile at a politician was the wrong way to express dissent. Frances Cook argues that she has “no problem” with protesting, but this was simply “an attempt to humiliate” – see: Dildo no substitute for reasoned debate. Her larger point is: “throwing a dildo isn’t exactly a reasoned debate of pros and cons. What better way to reassure John Key that he did the right thing in skipping the formalities, and watching the rugby instead? What better way to reassure him that the protests against the TPP aren’t heartfelt worries, but loonies who hate the Government no matter what they do?”

Andrew Little also condemned the action, saying “There is a right way to protest, and people should protest and take their issues up, but I don’t think this was the best way to do it” – see Simon Wong’s Little: Objects shouldn’t be thrown at politicians. Yet somehow Little also managed to blame the National Government for dildo news coverage: “We have become a laughing stock under John Key’s government… It’s not good when our senior Government politicians seem to think it is ok for the rest of the world to laugh at us.”

John Key also argued that the dildo protest was bad for New Zealand’s image. He was backed up by Mike Hosking’s two-minute video, Dildo thrower should be ashamed

But his argument was roundly seen as hypocritical by commentators who cited Key’s own embarrassing moments in recent years – see Grant Shimmin’s Time to ask John Key a serious question and Simon Prast’s Cock and Balls

And Key might also want to note how the Bangkok Post interpreted his absence from Waitangi: “Mr Key’s belligerent showdown with his country’s original inhabitants was embarrassing for him and for New Zealand” – see the editorial, Forget about joining TPP

Steven Joyce’s much more relaxed and good-humoured reaction to the flying dildo was well received – see Claire Trevett’s Steven Joyce to go down in history as ‘Dildo Baggins’.

Inevitably there was a large international news interest in the dildo protest – for the best of this see the Herald’s World reaction to Joyce’s stiff opposition and Wilhelmina Shrimpton’s two-minute item World media react to sex toy TPP protest. For social media reaction, see: Steven Joyce and #dildogate: Internet goes into overdrive

The single-most amusing overseas coverage was in the New York Post – see: Flying penis hits New Zealand official at trade-deal protest. For the best “frame-by-frame analysis” of the video, see Calum Henderson’s History in pictures – the 2016 Waitangi Dildo Incident. And for a history lesson, see Stuff’s Political projectiles through history

Finally, Mike Hosking is the butt of most humour about Waitangi Day this year – see Jeremy Wells’  “Like Mike” segment on Waitangi Day, and “Perfect Mike Hosking’s” Waitangi Day – so far from perfect

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Dr Bryce Edwards is a political scientist and a lecturer in Politics.

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