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20 January 2019 

Waitangi Day in the Classroom

Waitangi Day in the Classroom

Why We Celebrate Waitangi Day

Image credit: Tony @ Flickr

Kia Ora, it's Waitangi Day!

In February, New Zealand people commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, between Mâori chiefs and British representatives of the Crown. The treaty was signed on 6 February, 1840, at James Busby's house (now known as Treaty House) at Waitangi township in the Bay of Islands. Since 1974, the day has been officially celebrated as a public holiday.

For everyone celebrating Waitangi Day with a hangi or picnic outdoors, or some chocolate fish, here's a look into why this day is an important part of a New Zealander's life!

A look into the past

The Waitangi Treaty was instrumental in granting the United Kingdom sovereignty over New Zealand and establishing a British governorship in the country. It also granted the Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave them the same rights as all British subjects. Around 500 chiefs, including 13 or more women, signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori Chief Hone Heke was the first to sign the treaty and as they were signing they said "He iwi tahi tatou", which when translated into English means "We are now one people".

Eight further copies were made of the treaty and sent around the country to other chiefs to gather additional signatures.

The Controversies

The Waitangi Treaty is not without its controversies. An ongoing debate surrounding the treaty is that the English and the Māori versions differed. The most critical point of contention is whether the 19th century Māori truly understood the meaning of governorship (ceding sovereignty to the Crown).

Complicating matters was the fact that Māori society placed an emphasis on oral tradition rather than a written one, so they would have placed more reliance on what was told them rather than the text of the actual Treaty.

These debates have often influenced the style and mood of the celebrations over the last 25-30 years in modern-day New Zealand.

How is it celebrated?

Waitangi celebrations begin the previous day at the Ngapuhi Te Tii marae. Various speeches on current issues and debates are a part and parcel of this event.

On Waitangi Day, the Royal New Zealand Navy raises the national flag, the Union Jack, and St.George's Ensign on the flagstaff in the treaty grounds.

Cultural song and dance displays and a reenactment of the signing of the treaty make a part of this traditional ceremony. In the city of Rotorua, for example, the day is celebrated at Whakarewarewa - a living Māori village - with an event known as 'Whakanuia'.

Various organizations also showcase Māori culture, their past, present and future. Major sporting events, rodeos, public concerts and festivals are held across the country.

In an interesting twist, Wellington celebrates Bob Marley's birthday as well as Waitangi Day by hosting "One Love" – a music festival that celebrates peace and unity.

Waitangi celebrations in the classroom

  • Organize a field trip – A few days before Waitangi Day organize a trip to a local museum that highlights Māori culture. Alternately look in the local newspaper for any official events that may be happening including drumming, kapa haka and hangi. Then get the students to create a project using what they have seen and observed.
  • Decorate the classroom – Create a kiwi theme in the classroom. Hang flags and wear colors that reflect New Zealand.
  • Promote positive attitudes – Initiate a discussion in the classroom to gauge the students' understanding of Māori culture. Bring in suitable resources and accurate up-to-date information – slides, videos, songs, books – to reinforce positive attitudes towards the Māori.
  • Plan a play or a reenactment – A few days before Waitangi Day, consider preparing a play or a re-enactment of the signing of the Treaty. For younger students, consider short scenes rather than lengthy plays.
  • Cultural show – Divide your classroom into groups and encourage them to put up a cultural show. Point them towards Māori songs and dances they can learn, even rituals and traditions among the indigenous community.

If you love New Zealand as much as we do, and want to celebrate that love with a Maori-design plastic picnic mat, check out our range here.

Article written for Recycled Mats by Annie Besant