Waitangi Day: New Zealand's national holiday celebrates Maori culture

Waitangi Day celebrations in Campbelltown, Western Sydney. Source: Facebook/Campbelltown Waitangi Festival

Waitangi Day commemorates treaty and Maori ownership of land - and the New Zealand national holiday has put the spotlight on Australia and the likelihood of a similar treaty.

New Zealanders have celebrated Waitangi Day to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The treaty was formed in 1840 between the British Crown and over 500 Maori chiefs, notably recognising Maori ownership of land.    

Each year on February 6 the signing is celebrated with a public holiday in New Zealand with events focusing around family and culture.

Events also take place worldwide, including in Australia. At the Waitangi Festival in Campbelltown, in Western Sydney, it was all about sharing the Maori culture with others, festival chairman Darin Crofts said.

“For us, it’s about acknowledging culture and our people,” he said.

“It’s all about trying to give people a snapshot of who we are and bring other cultures into our space so that they can have a better understanding of who we are.”

Those descending from different parts of New Zealand participate in Waitangi Day celebrations differently, Mr Crofts said.

“Depending on where you come from changes your understanding and how you partake,” he added.

Many in New Zealand took part in celebrations at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, with New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett attending the ceremony.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English did not take part in the event due to a dispute over speaking rights, instead he attended scheduled events to mark the day in Auckland.

Some took to social media to voice their disappointment that Australia still does not have a treaty with its Indigenous people.

Mr Crofts said he will be celebrating throughout the day: “Most other Indigenous cultures weren’t fortunate enough to have a treaty so it’s a nice acknowledgment from the British people.”

Justin Mohamed, CEO of Reconciliation Australia said talk of a treaty between Australian governments and Aboriginal Australians is a process that is currently being played out.

“Processes at play currently, being treaty discussions in both South Australia and Victoria, gives indication that there is an desire for [a] treaty in Australia,” he told SBS News.

“We advocate that all Australian governments and the corporate sector increase and expand agreement making practices with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country in ways that empower pathways to self-determination for Indigenous Australians.”

Mr Mohamed said Australia Day does not currently unite all residents in the country.

"As it stands the 26th of January is not inclusive for all Australians," he said.

“We ask the question of whether or not our national day can be truly inclusive if it is celebrated on a day that represents the physical and cultural dispossession of a people.”

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