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What is Waitangi Day?

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Waitangi Day: a historical New Zealand public holiday.

On 6-February every year, New Zealanders celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi with a national public holiday. While the laws in New Zealand mean this is a public holiday – yay, a day off work! – it is also a time of reflection for the controversy that surrounded the document and how this has effected the society New Zealand lives in today.

Waitangi Day gets its name from the name of the treaty document, which in turn got its name from the location in the Bay of Islands where the treaty was signed, which is only a mere 3-minute drive from Paihia.

Although you can celebrate Waitangi Day throughout the country, a great place to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi any time of the year is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds itself. Have a look  at the 5 Great Things to Do at Waitangi.

Waitangi Day Fast Facts

  • The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed 6-February 1840.
  • 500 Maori chiefs signed the treaty by the end of 1840.
  • Waitangi Day became a national public holiday in 1974.
  • The name has alternated between Waitangi Day and New Zealand Day a couple of times.
  • The house where the treaty was signed can still be visited today in the Bay of Islands.
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Public Domain

What is the Treaty of Waitangi?

Often described as New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi outlines the principles to which Maori chiefs and British officials made a political agreement to form a nation state and establish a government. It was made and signed to deal with the quickly changing circumstances in New Zealand: that more and more Europeans were acquiring land from the Maori to establish commercial operations. The settling population was rapidly growing, bringing along uncontrolled crime and violence. Plus, the British were feeling the threat of a possible French or USA colonisation in New Zealand. So, essentially, the British wanted to get there first.

The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed 6-February-1840 by representatives of the British Crown and more than 40 Maori chiefs. By September 1840, a further 500 Maori chiefs had signed copies of the treaty, which were sent around New Zealand.

Because of the different understandings of the treaty, which was inaccurately translated from English to te reo Maori, there has been much conflict over the treaty in terms of land possession. The Treaty was the initial agreement that established British authority, an authority that later moved into the New Zealand Parliament. This is a move that the nation has recognised the importance of ever since, which is currently under investigation under the Waitangi Tribunal.

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What does Waitangi Day mean as a public holiday?

A public holiday in New Zealand is a day off work or education. Waitangi Day is 6-February every year and that is the day seen as the public holiday, unless 6-February falls on a weekend. In that case, weekday workers would get the following Monday off work. For people working on weekends, they would get 6-February off if it fell on a weekend.

Waitangi Day became an official public holiday in 1974, after initially being a holiday just in Auckland and Northland.

To check out New Zealand’s other public holiday, just give this a cheeky read.

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How do New Zealanders celebrate Waitangi Day?

While some celebrate Waitangi Day as a celebration of the Maori culture or just being ecstatic that it usually means a “long weekend”, others have used the day to protest.

The official Waitangi celebration occurs on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands with a ceremony and speeches from government officials taking place at the Te Tii Marae. Although it involves positive celebrations with festival-type events, it is also the location for protests.

Throughout the rest of New Zealand, communities come together with activities such as hangi (traditional Maori food), kapa haka performances (dancing) and tree planting to commemorate the coming together of people.

So, tell me more about this Maori stuff…

Our pleasure!

Read more about the New Zealand history and Maori culture in these articles:

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