Reason to Celebrate

Our family has a great "Waitangi Day" story, dating back to the days when one of our kids was courting. The prospective spouse was told, with a straight face, that the Coleman family has a yearly ritual of attending Waitangi Day festivities, and that on February 6th they were expected to join the trek up to the marae with us. This was not a complete fabrication, as one year when we were living in Dargaville - a town in Northland where 35% of school children were Maori and our kids had weekly lessons in te reo - we had made a day of it and had a fantastic time amongst the pollies and protestors. But it was only the once. The person contemplating joining our whanau was brought up in a mainly-pakeha suburb in Auckland and was not very sympathetic to issues of Maori culture and the partnership aspects of the Treaty of Waitangi. By contrast a sensitivity to Maori tikanga was something to which our family was accustomed. In our years living in Northland Ric and I had attended tangi and hui at local marae, and he had inaugurated a weekly medical clinic at a local pa. So the cheeky pretence that we were all headed to the Te Tii marae to celebrate the signing of the Treaty, to listen to speeches and protests, and to immerse ourselves in Maoridom for the day, was to an extent believable. And the day before the holiday, a very tentative refusal, on the basis that a quiet day off was preferred, was met with hoots of laughter. Gotcha!

Followers of Jesus display mixed responses to the celebration of Waitangi Day. We have different perspectives on the partnership between Maori and Pakeha. On the one hand, some have Maori heritage, or family members who are Maori, or like my kids may have grown up in a rural area. Their workplace, especially if it’s the public service, may quite intentionally include various aspects of Maori protocol and courtesy as a matter of daily routine. They have no problem with singing the National Anthem in Maori, and see the day as important opportunity to recognise our unique identity as New Zealanders, dating back to the historic agreement of cooperation between two nations, signed by our government in 1840.

By contrast, others at our Sunday service this week may have felt uncomfortable, even indignant that I included mention of Waitangi. They see the political posturing of the Treaty Day protesters as pointless and offensive, and wish we could just get on with being twenty-first century Kiwis of many cultures, and not have to spend time, energy and money acknowledging the past. They resonate with quotes like this one - None of us was around at the time of the New Zealand wars. None of us had anything to do with the confiscations. There is a limit to how much any generation can apologise for the sins of its great grandparents. No prizes for guessing that was from Don Brash's speech at Orewa in 2004.

In “One Faith, Two Peoples” Lloyd Martin pointed out that some Christians have been quite unhelpful in our bicultural journey, for example, by advising Maori Christians to renounce their spirituality and culture. A much more helpful approach is found in the Biblical notion of Covenant, which can help us honour the Treaty and live in partnership as citizens of Aotearoa. In February 1840, both Maori and Pakeha understood the Treaty as a Covenant “Te Kawenata.” The word was known to Maori through Christian missionaries and through the Maori Bible which from 1826 used 'Kawenata' to describe the two testaments. The Treaty, as a framework for transferring sovereignty and shaping the future relationship of the two partners, was seen as a covenant under God.

What implications lie in the use of this Biblical concept? Maori leader Kim Workman, former head of Prison Fellowship in New Zealand, is a follower of Jesus who suggests three ways:
• A biblical covenant is a continuing covenant, passed on from generation to generation and remaining in force in spite of our failure to live up to its provisions.
• Covenant institutes a relationship based not on law but on love -- a relationship in which there is no place for selfishness, conditions or competition.
• Covenant obligations are freely accepted – and they include respect and trust of each other and a willingness to share all God's gifts, including land, knowledge and power.

Does that sound unsettling? I don’t intend to tell you how you might implement those principles in your attitudes and actions. But do think about how Biblical values like trust, openness, good faith, and co-operation might impact your own water cooler conversations. Think about covenant next time you discuss a political speech or tell a racist joke. Kim Workman says most New Zealanders have no idea about how past unfairness has affected generation upon generation of Maori. He says we need to have that conversation. And to hear the stories of those who walk on land that was once family property, and was taken unlawfully. Lloyd Martin compares that to the imaginary scenario of a Japanese victory in WWII, a treaty between our two peoples, and the gradual appropriation of land and resources for immigrant Japanese. Makes you think doesn’t it? We need to have those conversations too. Maori Christians can help us. Remember Phil 2.4, they say. "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." Imagine the difference it would make if Maori and Pakeha were each working to safeguard the interests of the other.

Whatever you think about the posturing that went on up at Te Tii this week, let us not forget we have a genuine reason to celebrate our nationhood, and that Christians can play a role in healing past and present wounds. Not just because we are part of the wider society that brought about injustices, but because, as followers of Jesus, we have a special insight into the calling and responsibility of keeping covenant.

To Chew Over: What do you think about the current debate regarding Monday-ising the Waitangi Day holiday? Do you think doing so would make us more, or less, aware of the signifiance of the Treaty?

This prayer we used at our church on Sunday 6 February 2011 was adapted from one used by the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand:
We pray to the Lord and give thanks for our nation of Aotearoa.
We pray for the sadness and hurt of former days, pain which has touched us all,
with the hope that the pathway forward may be both peaceful and good.
We pray for grace to embrace new settlers and to view all others as part of our national family.
Lord, give decision makers your strength in the many tasks that lay ahead of us as a nation. May Te Tiriti o Waitangi remind us to pursue truth and justice for all,
and enable us to stand together in faith and peace,