Speeches by Dame Silvia Cartwright

Dame Silvia Cartwright's address at a Garden Party at Government House, Wellington, to commemorate the 164th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi


06-Feb-2004

Nga manuhiri tuarangi, nga rangatira ma, nga iwi o te motu, nga mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.

Visitors from afar, respected guests, people from New Zealand, warm greetings to you all.

Greetings: Your Excellency the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Cardinal Williams, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, the Hon Chris Carter and Mr Peter Kaiser, Dr Don Brash and Mrs Je Lan Brash, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you very much for being here today, to share our celebration of Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day.  Warm greetings also to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic His Excellency Mr Cyril Svoboda who, together with his wife, is a guest here today.  Today is special for all New Zealanders so I am delighted that so many from here and from overseas have been able to spend a part of it together here at Government House. 

About 20 years ago, when I was a judge of the District Courts, with my judicial colleagues I was visiting one of the Auckland marae.  There was discussion, laughter shared food, and many new friends enjoyed each other’s company.  There was one awkward moment.  As we took leave of our hosts, one of my senior colleagues said: Over the last few days we have seen that we New Zealanders are all one people.  There was a silence and as he looked around him, he saw what was obvious to everyone.  There were people of many different ethnic groups, but predominately Maori and pakeha.  There were women and men, and people of widely differing age groups.  Each one of us was unique, but together we had shared some precious, indeed memorable moments. 

Just a few days ago, I listened to the second Rua Rau Tau lecture given by Dame Joan Metge.  As others have done before her, she likened the relationship among all the people who make up modern New Zealand to a rope – many strands which when woven or working together create a strong nation.  She recalled the words of Lieutenant Governor Hobson at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 to each rangatira who signed the Treaty that day: ‘He iwi tahi tatou’ which Governor Hobson, incorrectly it seems, understood to mean: ‘We are now one people’. Dame Joan, a distinguished scholar and member of the Waitangi National Trust Board that administers the land on which the first signatures were put to the Treaty, views the phrase as having two possible meanings: In 1840 correctly translated it would have meant: We two peoples together make a nation’

New Zealand, the land on which we New Zealanders stand today has changed little over the past 100 years or so.  To all of us, this is a blessed land – one of peace and beauty.  It is our land, our turangawaewae.  Each one of us cares deeply about it and know ourselves to be privileged to live here.  While the land changes little, the people have changed markedly over the more than 160 years since the signing of the Treaty, and we will continue to do so.  As a nation, as a people, we are evolving all the time.  A look around here today underlines that what was once a bicultural nation is now very much a multicultural one.

According to Statistics New Zealand, our Mäori population is projected to reach nearly three quarters of a million in 2021, an increase of more than 150 thousand.  The Mäori share of the total population is also expected to increase, from 15 percent three years ago to 17 percent by 2021. The Pacific population will increase by two thirds over that timeframe, and our Asian population will likely more than double.  In comparison, due to lower fertility rates, migration and an older age structure, New Zealand's European population will remain virtually static over the same timeframe.  The colours of the tapestry that is New Zealand, to which I have referred to on previous Waitangi days, is changing, in composition and intensity.

It is important that we recognise and acknowledge these changes.  This is our country, this is who we are, and this is how we will go forward as a nation.  We cannot, and nor should we want to stop time.  Instead, recognising that diversity adds interest, and improves many aspects of our economy, and our arts and culture to name but a few, we should celebrate the unique composition of our population, and the fact that our nation continues to grow, prosper and daily become more exciting and colourful.

One hundred and sixty four years ago, Maori chiefs throughout the country signed a document that today is seen as the founding document of modern New Zealand.  The Treaty of Waitangi was then taken to all parts of New Zealand and chiefs throughout the land added their signatures.  The commemoration of this event which has become so significant for New Zealand, takes place each year on February the sixth, the day the first signatures were affixed to the Treaty, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.

I was in Waitangi this morning.  Those of you who have visited this part of our country, will know that it is a place of sublime beauty, and that the Waitangi Estate, administered by the representative Trust Board, is a place where we can all reflect on our shared history in tranquillity.  The commemorations each Waitangi Day go from strength to strength.  Thousands of people gather there to mark our national day.  Some use the day to voice opinions on political issues and, given the history of the debate that surrounded the initial signing of the Treaty, that is healthy and to be expected.  They and thousands of other New Zealanders also use the day to celebrate our nation and the wonderful country in which we live.

There are other events the length and breadth of the country today; celebrations where New Zealanders from all backgrounds get together to enjoy Waitangi Day.  Many people forget that, while it is called the Treaty of Waitangi, it was signed by chiefs throughout New Zealand.  On Waitangi Day therefore, I take the opportunity where possible to visit other places where the Treaty has significance, or commemorations are being held.  On the Kapiti Coast alone some 32 chiefs signed the Treaty.  So, I have just come from a Waitangi Day service at Otaki’s Rangiatea Church, the beautiful church built, and then rebuilt by both Maori and pakeha, making it a potent symbol of the sort of collaboration our ancestors at Waitangi had in mind 164 years ago. We are right to celebrate the symbolism of the day, not just at Waitangi, but throughout the country. 

The treaty was born out of a discussion about how two peoples might best live and prosper together.  That discussion and debate was lively and lengthy. It is not therefore surprising that commemorating the signing of the Treaty revives discussion and that every year, there are questions about how best to mark the day.  It helps I think, to remind ourselves of the essence of the treaty: it was drafted and signed because two peoples had a desire to come together, to live in harmony in this exquisite country, to weave together our respective cultures and traditions and become stronger as one nation made up of many strands.

So what is Waitangi Day really about, then? Is it about grievances, or about conflict, as some would have us think? Waitangi Day is not about those things. It is still a day when we discuss, debate and have our say, but increasingly, it is gaining a distinctive character – one of commemoration mixed with reflection and celebration of what makes us New Zealanders.

Today we can also celebrate the fact that from those simple beginnings over 160 years ago, we can now use the second, equally valid translation: ‘He iwi tahi tatou’ – ‘We many peoples together make a nation ’

I thank you all for coming.

Tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.