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Tradition of controversy endures

No nation is without its controversies, and it has become a contemporary tradition that Waitangi Day is a time for New Zealanders, and Maori in particular, to air some of their grievances.

This year was no exception. In the lead up to Waitangi Day controversy flared in the media when Transit NZ rejected the Maori Party’s request to fly the Maori sovereignty flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Anglican bishop Rt Rev Te Kitohi Pikaahu referred to the issue in his sermon during the dawn service. In an interview afterwards, Kitohi explained that a number of flags have importance to Maori.

They include the flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand which was recognised by the British crown in 1835 and the more contemporary Tino Rangatiratanga flag, which was designed by veterans of the Maori land marches in the late 1980s. It was this latter flag that some Maori wanted to raise on the harbour bridge alongside the New Zealand flag.

“The flag has cultural significance to Maori. It is red, black and red and has the koru pattern, which refers to creation out of nothingness. For Maori tino rangatiratanga means self-determination in a practical sense, rule over yourself and your own mana.

“The flag represents Maori aspirations. It has been flown at Waitangi, and in all the hikoi, both church and iwi based, for almost two decades,” Kitohi says.

Two groups of Maori protestors staged demonstrations at Waitangi this year. Once they made their point for themselves and the media, they quickly dispersed, however. This was no doubt due in part to the rain but also may have been because individuals who have led such protests in the past are now in Parliament as members of the Maori party.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira spoke at the ecumenical church service and later addressed a group of protestors who gathered on the upper marae behind a large banner that read ‘Honour the Treaty’.

In his talk at the church service Hone said he would like to see Waitangi Day become a day of real nation building. He wants to see Waitangi itself to host some special events such as sports, music, culture and korero (discussion).

He also proposed that the government set up a commissioner for the Treaty, who would act as an advocate in much the same way the commissioner for children is an independent advocate for children’s rights.