Waitangi Day

February 6th is Waitangi Day in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It celebrates the date of the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Waitangi is in the Bay of Islands in Te Ika A Maui / North Island.

Whetu: 'Koro, you know how I love having holidays and Waitangi Day comes just as kura starts, which is awesome because we get a day off school.' Koro: 'You are the lucky one moko. When I was at school, we did not get the day off. It was not until 1974 that Waitangi day was made a holiday but guess what happened then?'

Waitangi Day becomes a public holiday

The New Zealand Government announced that Waitangi Day would be a national holiday from 1974. It was called New Zealand Day at that time. In 1976 the Waitangi Day Act was passed to change the name back to Waitangi Day. From 2013 the public holiday to celebrate Waitangi Day will be held on the 6th of February of on the Monday following if it falls on a weekend.

Celebrating Waitangi Day

New Zealanders celebrate Waitangi Day in different ways. For some people it is just a day off work, but others like to celebrate it as a significant day in New Zealand’s history. At times, Waitangi Day has been marked by strong debate and protest from Māori and Pakeha. There is sometimes tension surrounding celebrations, especially at the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi and Parliament Buildings in Wellington. This relates to the place of the Treaty in New Zealand society today as well as marking historical ill-feeling and wrongs.

In Canterbury, Waitangi Day celebrations are held at many marae and other public places. Takapūneke and Ōnuku Marae, both on Banks Peninsula, are the bases for official celebrations near Ōtautahi / Christchurch.

Waka, Okain’s Bay, 6 February 1977
Waka, Okain’s Bay, 6 February 1977. Flickr HWC08-SO102
 Apirana Ngata taking the lead in a haka on Waitangi Day at the centennial celebrations at Waitangi
Snowden, James Robert, 1904-1982. Creator unknown: Photograph of Apirana Ngata taking the lead in a haka on Waitangi Day at the centennial celebrations at Waitangi, taken by Bert Snowden. Ref: 1/2-029794-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22311984

Whetu: 'Did you know that … the first big celebrations of the Treaty did not take place until 1934?' Koro: 'Ae moko, there were 10000 of our people there that day. It had been nearly 100 years since te Tiriti o Waitangi had come into being. It was a time of reflection on what had happened in those 100 years.'In 2015, Ōtautahi’s Mayor Lianne Dalziel told us what Waitangi Day means to her

What does the Treaty of Waitangi mean to you?

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. When I was a child we didn’t learn anything about it at school. As an adult I became ashamed at how little I knew. We didn’t know how to pronounce the names or know the meaning of the places where we grew up or in my case one of the schools I went to. Papanui (where I grew up) means a large piece of land and Waimairi (my first school) means peaceful water by the trees or listless water.

I am so pleased that young people today learn about our shared history with Māori, good and bad, and not just the history of the European settlers. The Treaty in modern times has served as the basis for resolving grievances that arose when its principles were not honoured. Every settlement begins with a statement of the facts (gleaned from a consideration of all the evidence by the Waitangi Tribunal) and an apology for the wrong that has been done. It is important that people own up and say sorry when they have done wrong – and in this case the wrong was done by the Crown, which lives on in the form of the Executive arm of government, which is why the apology is recorded in the Act of Parliament that confirms the settlement.

How do you celebrate Waitangi Day?

I have always celebrated Waitangi Day as a Member of Parliament by attending the celebration that is held at Ōnuku Marae (one of three places where the Treaty was originally signed in the South Island) every three years or one of the local Marae – most recently Okains Bay. This year, as Mayor of Christchurch, I am being included as part of a celebration at Rapaki Marae where I will officiate at a citizenship ceremony. There is something wonderful about welcoming new citizens on this special day.

Ōnuku Marae citizenship ceremony, February 2013
Ōnuku Marae citizenship ceremony, February 2013 (photo supplied by Christchurch City Council).

Our resources

More information

Classroom ideas — Waitangi Day
Ideas for teachers and students of ways to celebrate Waitangi Day and learn about the Treaty. Ideas fit with New Zealand curriculum.

Waka launch, Waitangi Day, Okain’s Bay, 6 February 1977
Waka launch, Waitangi Day, Okain’s Bay, 6 February 1977. Flickr HWC08-SO101

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