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How to talk about: Waitangi Day

Talking about Waitangi Day

When I was growing up in the 90’s as one of the handful of Māori kids in our tiny mid-Canterbury town, no one really talked about Waitangi Day. People preferred to talk about classic rural staples such as the likelihood of rain, which of the two fish and chip shops had the bigger scoops, and whether the All Blacks 1991 World Cup campaign was more disastrous than petrol prices rising above a buck a litre.

Times have changed now. In all likelihood, my son will know more about New Zealand’s history and Waitangi Day by the time he is seven or eight than I did when I was twenty.

Fortunately, he will probably grow up without hearing too many people pronounce ‘Wai-tangi’ the same way they say ‘Tangy Fruits.’ Unfortunately, he will also grow up without experiencing the sweet tangy joy of Tangy Fruits.

Iconic candy aside, you might be wondering how you even start to explain Waitangi Day to your kids. Here are some ideas.

Why is something which happened so long ago still so important?

“Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.”

This is a pretty well-known whakataukī. I think the reason it is so memorable is because its meaning and the image it creates are quite striking. In this image, we are walking backwards into the future, with our eyes fixed on the past.

To me this says a lot about how our relationship with the past impacts and influences our future.

There’s a simple reason I want my boy to grow up with ‘eyes fixed on the past.’ It is because when we learn and understand the story of Aotearoa, we are much more equipped to shape a better future for everyone who lives here. And the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is one of the most important chapters in the story of Aotearoa, which is why we get a day off to commemorate it.

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that talking about Waitangi Day might be a little different depending on whether your whānau is Pākehā, Māori, Pasifika, Asian or from somewhere else. That’s okay. What’s important is that we talk about it, because if you’ve made Aotearoa your home, the story of Waitangi Day is your story too.

There’s a simple reason I want my boy to grow up with ‘eyes fixed on the past.’

Start with a story

Not every child loves discussing politics, history or the translation differences in Article Two, but they do love stories. And as we’ve pointed out above, that’s exactly what our history is. The story of Waitangi Day is complex, but like any other great story, it has interesting characters, a twisty-turny plot and a beautiful setting.

Start familiarising yourself and your family with the basics of the story. A great way to do this is through books, and we’re not even meaning the long boring ones with no pictures. Maybe start with this great book, Te Tiriti O Waitangi, by Toby Morris – it’s not too long and it has lots of pictures.

If your children are a little older or you yourself aren’t quite sure where to begin, the docudrama What really happened – Waitangi is a pretty informative re-creation of the events leading up to the signing. You may want to watch this first to see if it’s appropriate for your children:

If you want to level up and go for a slightly longer and broader look at New Zealand history, The Aotearoa History Show is well worth a look. (Available on YouTube, or you can listen to it via podcast.)

We’ve covered the basics, now what?

An easy way to help your children engage with some of the issues surrounding Waitangi Day is by discussing hypothetical situations and getting them to think about how they would feel or act. For example:

Invite your children to imagine that they live on a beautiful beach and can surf every day on uncrowded waves. Then one day, some other people show up and want to live on the beach and surf the waves too. Maybe they even promised to share and not crowd you out. Would that be okay? How would you make that work for everyone?

You could even extend this a little further: What if those same people shared for a while, but then started inviting a whole lot of their other friends without asking you? Eventually, there wasn’t any room left for you on the beach at all. How would you feel about that? Would that be fair?

The Treaty is obviously far more complex than that, but scenarios like these can help open up the types of conversation that we all need to have.

So how will you commemorate Waitangi day?

My boy is tiny, and his reading skills are yet to surpass those of a squeaky floorboard. However, we’ve already been thinking about the kind of activities and traditions we could introduce to commemorate Waitangi Day as a whānau. This year, we’ll probably read something simple, say a karakia and go to the beach. As the years go on we’ll level things up a bit.

It doesn’t matter whether you read, watch or attend commemorations, just use the day off to do something that acknowledges the significance of Waitangi Day. For me, it’s a day to lament the pain and broken promises of our story. But it’s also a space to dream about our country’s incredible future, which will no-doubt involve the long-awaited comeback of Tangy Fruits.

Phil Baker

Phil Baker

Piripi is of Te Whakatōhea descent; a contributor to Parenting Place and avid fried chicken enthusiast. He used to think of himself as a husband, but marriage has taught him he is actually just a live-in masseuse. Either that or a poorly stocked ATM. He is also a proud dad to a beautiful boy.

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