On the 6th of February each year, New Zealand celebrates Waitangi Day. The purpose of this public holiday is to remember the Treaty of Waitangi – our founding document, and acknowledge the role this document plays right through to our current day.
Brief history of Waitangi Day
Waitangi is a small town in the Bay of Islands, and on 6 February 1840, approximately 540 Māori representatives together with representatives from the British Crown met at Waitangi to sign a treaty that would change the course of New Zealand history forever.
Prior to the signing of the Treaty, there was a great deal of unrest amongst the different groups living in New Zealand. British citizens were emigrating to New Zealand in large numbers. They required land in which to settle and make new lives – which understandably, caused considerable tension amongst Māori. The Treaty of Waitangi would offer Maori rights to their land, while bringing New Zealand under British sovereignty. There were, and have continued to be issues surrounding the translation of the document and whether both parties understood what was being signed in the same way.
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the grounds of James Busby’s house in Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. It was signed on February 6th 1840 and is considered by many to be the founding document of New Zealand. It was signed by 500 Maori Chiefs and the British Leaders representing the British Crown.
There were two different versions signed, one in Maori and one in English. The wording was not exactly the same. And so the words did not mean the same to both parties, this has caused many problems over the years. Especially as past Governments have not always abided by the Treaty agreements.
Since 1974 New Zealand has celebrated Waitangi Day On February 6th each year as a Public Holiday (which means you get a day off school!).
Some celebrate it by re-enacting the treaty signing at Waitangi (in the Bay of Islands) others as a day to celebrate being a New Zealander.