Waitangi Day

Today is Waitangi Day. It is 170 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This was a treaty between Queen Victoria of England and Maori chiefs in New Zealand. The Queen promised to give Maori all the rights of British citizens and to protect the people. Maori could sell their land but only to the government. They had rights to collect their food from traditional places like the sea, rivers, lakes and forests. They had rights to their taonga which is a Maori word for treasures but it was never clear to the white people who signed the Treaty, exactly what this word meant. It was a problem in translation.

For many years now, Waitangi Day has been a day of protest, a day when people – white and Maori – said it was time to “Honour the Treaty”. Maori lost most of their land. Some of it was taken by the government after the land wars in the nineteenth century.

In recent years, Maori iwi (tribes) have been given land and money as part of Treaty settlements to compensate the iwi for losing their land. Many iwi are still waiting for their Treaty settlement. The Prime Minister, John Key, said today that he hoped Treaty settlements would all be finished by 2014. For more about Treaty Settlements listen to February 11th 2009.

Last year, John Key was pushed by some protesters at Waitangi but today, it was a peaceful and happy occasion. The weather was warm and a crowd of about 30,000 attended at Waitangi in the far north of the North Island. The day started with a religious service at dawn. Then it was time to put the big 37m waka (canoe) into the sea. About 50 men each had a paddle. There were more than 20 smaller waka also beside the big waka in the sea.

Then there were speeches and music to entertain the large crowd. Waitangi celebrations were also held in other parts of the country.

Listen to Waitangi Day 2009 to see what happened last year.

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