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Governor-General's Waitangi Day Speech

Tēnā koutou katoa kua tae mai nei i tēnei rā o Waitangi.

Haere mai tatau me te whaiwhakaaro

Mō to tatau whenua o Aotearoa.

Otira, mō tatau tonu, ngā iwi maha o Aotearoa.

Tēnā koutou, tena koutou, nau mai ki te Whare kāwana nei.

Today, wherever New Zealanders may be, here or overseas, they will be taking time out to be with friends, whanau, and fellow citizens.

As we take time away from our daily routines, we will be reflecting on our good fortune to be citizens of these beautiful islands – that both sustain us and shape our experience of identity.

Our national day is a time to think about what we stand for – and to hope, dream and plan for the future.

Waitangi Day invites us to first think about how we came to be at this point in time, as expressed in this whakatauki

Titiro whakamuri, haere whakamua

Look back and reflect, so you can move forward.

The thread that runs through our nation’s past, present and future is our Treaty of Waitangi.

Te Tiriti ensures a place for all of us, while maintaining the interests of Māori, the tangata whenua of New Zealand.

The Treaty of Waitangi has its origins in the arrival of Captain James Cook on his first exploratory voyage on the Endeavour, in 1769. This expedition had been organised and financed by the Royal Society in London. Captain Cook spent almost six months in New Zealand waters mapping the coastline, and thereby initiated the British connection with New Zealand.

The first encounter between Māori and the Endeavour’s crew was fraught with tension and violence. Communication was impossible, marred by mutual misunderstanding and fear.

However in subsequent encounters, the presence of Tupaia, a Tahitian chief who was travelling with Captain Cook, was able to bridge the divide. His language was similar to te reo Māori – and he could also converse in English.

This enabled European and Māori to take their very first steps towards understanding each other’s world.

That early communication set the scene for an influx of Europeans into New Zealand, and the beginning of a long journey towards mutual understanding – one that we travel still.

Today marks the 179th anniversary since an agreement to share Aotearoa was formalised in Te Tiriti, on the lawn in front of James Busby’s house in Waitangi.

That day, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Queen Victoria’s representative, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, and rangatira from northern tribes.

Over the course of eight months, over 500 Māori signed copies of Te Tiriti at various locations around New Zealand.

They had high hopes that articles Two and Three of Te Tiriti, in protecting their rights and their control of their lands, would ensure their sharing in the development of a new nation.

But the actions of the Government, installed by the Crown following on from this historic event, soon dashed those hopes.

Again and again, the Waitangi Tribunal has heard how tangata whenua were systematically deprived of their lands, how the Crown did not act to uphold its commitments in the Treaty and how the government reneged on its promises to build schools and hospitals, or allow adequate reserves for iwi use to be retained from land purchases.

Generations of Māori communities across Aotearoa experienced a steep decline in their economic, cultural, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Over time, Māori adopted various strategies to express their desire for a genuine Tiriti relationship with government, with little result.

We can’t change that history.

What we can do is acknowledge and remember all those who fought for their rights, who kept trying to make things better, to bridge the divide and work for change.

Significant effort has gone into Treaty claims and settlements in recent years, with opportunities for a new trajectory in the social, cultural and economic position of iwi, and a Treaty relationship based on mutual respect and good faith.

More New Zealanders are learning te reo Māori. More Māori words and concepts are being used by more people, and as this trend continues, there will be greater understanding of te ao Māori, a Māori world view.

The concept of kaitiakitanga has been embraced by many New Zealanders, because it resonates with what they believe it is that defines this country.

New Zealanders frequently put the environment at the top of the list, along with freedom, rights and peace.

The environment is a taonga for all of us, but caring about the environment and caring for the environment are two different things.

Sentiment must be accompanied by action.

We can be – and indeed must be – better kaitiaki – guardians of our lakes, rivers and oceans, and the land that sustains our wellbeing.

Last month, David Attenborough spoke about the urgent need for global action on the environment at the meeting of world leaders at Davos. He advised them to “move beyond guilt or blame, and get on with the practical tasks at hand”.

Last year I visited Te Waihora – Lake Ellesmere, New Zealand’s fifth-largest lake, where tangata whenua - Ngai Tahu, together with farmers, local government and scientists are doing just that.

Their goal is to restore the wellbeing of the lake and its contributing streams, as well as find ways to address the thorny problem of nitrates in the ground-water that feeds into the lake.

There is goodwill, optimism and a determination to work together for the public good and find lasting solutions.

It takes wisdom and courage to build such partnerships and find a path through difficult issues, with the goal of this old chant:

Tuia te muka tangata ki uta – weaving people together for a shared future.

Our Treaty, our nation’s unique model of partnership, demands principled action, respectful communication and commitment to high ideals. The responsibility to care for our environment rests with all of us.

On this Waitangi Day, my hope and dream is that New Zealanders will be guided by those principles in working together to create a sustainable and just future for the generations to come – and for the wellbeing of these islands we call home.

No reira, mā whero, mā pango, ka oti te mahi.

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