Waitangi Day

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Waitangi Day is a public holiday in New Zealand held each year on February 6 to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, on that date in 1840.



The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840 in a marquee erected in the grounds of James Busby's house at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. A draft of the treaty had been presented to the local Maori chiefs the previous day and Governor Hobson had returned to his ship, HMS Herald, anchored in the bay, expecting the Maori to discuss the treaty for a day and possibly sign it on the morning of February 7. However, Maori had debated signing the treaty later into the night and appeared to have presumed the treaty would be signed in the morning of February 6 and did not have enough food to wait another day. Hobson was called ashore to sign the treaty just after noon, still dressed in his civilian clothes and only carried his uniform hat.

Early Celebrations

The first Waitangi Day was not celebrated until 1934. In 1932, Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe and his wife had purchased and gifted to the nation the run down house of James Busby, where the Treaty was signed. It was restored and the 1934 celebrations were a commemoration of the restoration.

In 1940, the Waitangi treaty house and grounds featured promiently in the Centennial celebrations and annual celebrations were held there during the 1950s.

Public Holiday

Waitangi Day was proposed as a public holiday by the Labour Party in their 1957 party manifesto. After Labour won the election they were reluctant to create a new public holiday, so legislation was first passed in 1960 making it possible for a locality to substitute Waitangi Day as an alternative to an existing public holiday. In 1963, after a change in government, Waitangi Day was substituted for Auckland Anniversary Day as the provincial holiday in Northland.

New Zealand Day

Following the landslide election of the Kirk Labour government in 1972, Prime Minister Norman Kirk announced on February 6th, 1973 that Waitangi Day would be a National Public Holiday from 1974. The legislation that was passed renamed the day "New Zealand Day" and received broad political support. The change in name was seen by many as broadening the focus from just the Treaty of Waitangi to a national celebration of New Zealand's nationhood.

The 1974 commemorations of New Zealand Day were extensive and televised nationally. However, the 1975 commemorations were low key and not supported by central or local government. This may partly have been due to widespread grief and mourning following the recent death of Norman Kirk.

After Labour lost the 1975 elections to National, the new government passed legislation in 1976 and change the holiday's name back to Waitangi Day.

Controversy and Protest

Although this is New Zealand's national day, the commemoration has often been the focus of protest by Maori activists, and is often marred by controversy. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Waitangi, and Waitangi Day became a focus of protest concerning treaty injustices. Claiming the "Treaty is a fraud" Maori activists called for the holiday not to be celebrated until the treaty was "honoured".

Several hundred protestors often gather at Waitangi. Although not part of the official celebrations, Maori sovereignty activists often attempt to fly the Maori Sovereignty flag from the flagstaff. These protests are generally contained by the Police, though few arrests are normally made. Attempts at vandalism of the flagstaff are often an objective of these protests, carrying on a tradition that dates from the 19th century when Maori chopped down flagstaffs as protests to land disputes.

In 2004, protestors succeeded in flying the Maori Sovereignty flag above the other flags on the flagstaff by flying it from the top of a nearby tree. Some commentators described this gesture as audacious and bold.


Because of the level of protest and violence that had previously occurred at Waitangi, the new Prime Minister did not attend in 2000 the official celebrations were shifted from Waitangi to Wellington in 2001. This change was considered an insult to Maori.

Most recently in 2003 and 2004 the anniversary was again officially commemorated at the treaty house at Waitangi where the treaty was first signed.

At Waitangi

Celebrations at Waitangi often commence the previous day, February 5th, at the Ngapuhi's Te Tii marae, where political dignatories are "welcomed" onto the marae and hear speeches from the local iwi. These speeches often deal with the issues of the day and vigorous and robust debate occurs.

On Waitangi Day itself, at dawn, the New Zealand Navy raises the New Zealand Flag, Union Jack and White Ensign on the Flagstaff in the treaty grounds.

The ceremonies during the day generally include a church service and cultural displays such as dance and song. Several waka and a navy ship also re-enact the calling ashore of Governor Hobson to sign the treaty.

The day closes with the flags being lowered by the navy in a traditional ceremony.

Elsewhere in New Zealand

In recent years, communities throughout New Zealand have been celebrating Waitangi Day in a variety of ways. These often take the form of public concerts and festivals.

Some marae use the day as an open day and an educational experience for their local communities, giving them the opportunity to experience Maori culture and protocol. Other marae use the day as an opportunity to explain where they see Maori are and the way forward for Maori in New Zealand.

External links


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