New Zealand marks Waitangi Day, 2006

Monday, February 6, 2006

Today marks the 166th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, in 1840.

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. This year, the morning celebrations at Waitangi were peaceful, and there was only a brief altercation during the afternoon. Celebrations also went smoothly at over 60 other sites around the country, except for a confrontation at Hayman Park in Manukau City between local Maori and National Front members.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark did not attend the dawn service at Waitangi today, or visit the lower Te Tii Marae. She hosted a breakfast for Northland civic leaders before taking part in other events around the country. In the afternoon she visited Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland, then attended the reception at Government House hosted by the Governor General.

Helen Clark being welcomed onto Hoani Waititi Marae
Helen Clark, Prime Minister

The Leader of the Opposition Dr Don Brash visited the upper Te Tii Marae on Saturday afternoon. In his speech at the Marae, Dr Brash said New Zealand needs to stop looking in the "rear-view mirror" and that the speedy settlement of claims is important for all New Zealanders.

The current Labour government has pledged to finish all Treaty claims by 2020, while National's 2005 election policy called for all claims to be settled by 2010.

Dr Brash said National is still committed to settling claims quickly, but because of the current Labour government, National's deadline of 2010 to settle treaty grievances is no longer realistic. The target will be reviewed in a National Party caucus meeting next week.

Dr. Don Brash

Dr Brash also attended the dawn service at the upper Te Tii Marae, where he was asked to offer a prayer; he said about the treaty we "ask your forgiveness for our sins...none of us is without sin, we have all fallen short of the treaty promise". The Prime Minister has refused to comment on the prayer.

Dr Brash then visited Hoani Waititi Marae, leaving before the Prime Minister arrived.

This year also marked the first time in a decade that the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) has had a major presence at Waitangi Day celebrations.

Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Ledson says "You can either build walls of silence or you can use words to build bridges...we'd sooner use words and conversation to build bridges than sit either side of a stone wall."

At dawn, the RNZN raised the New Zealand flag, the Union Jack and the White Ensign on the flagstaff in the treaty grounds.

This was followed by a church service and cultural displays. Several boats re-enacted the calling ashore of Governor Hobson to sign the treaty.

Her Excellency the Governor-General

The annual hikoi (protest march) with about 500 people started at lunch time and marched from the lower Te Tii Marae, up to the upper Te Tii Marae and then to the contentious flagpole, where some protestors had a brief standoff with police.

The day closed with the flags being lowered by the RNZN in a traditional ceremony.

Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright said in her annual Waitangi Day address. "Celebrations at Waitangi on Waitangi Day have changed a great deal over the years...[now] involving families, schools, youth and community groups...let us as always, remember our history, but let us look forward also to a bright future for our country."

The Governor-General arrived at Waitangi on Saturday, February 4, where she welcomed the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea to Waitangi before she attended a reception onboard HMNZS Te Mana.

Today she attended the dawn service on the treaty grounds, followed by celebrations in Hamilton. She then hosted an afternoon garden party at Government House in Auckland, not at the traditional Wellington Government House venue. This is her last Waitangi Day as Governor-General.

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