Waitangi Day 2024: Dawn service turns to unity, love and togetherness

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The Hikoī crosses over to Waitangi
The Hīkoi crosses over to Waitangi with about 1000 people chanting "Hīkoi mo te Tiriti" - "March for the Treaty" - as they reached Treaty Grounds. Image: RNZ News

RNZ News

Thousands of people gathered before dawn in the Bay of Islands today to commemorate Aotearoa New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi amid heightened tensions between the coalition government and Māori.

Waitangi Trust chair Pita Tipene welcomed everyone and said the massive crowds were vastly different from when the country was stuck in the grip of the covid-19 pandemic.

“Several years ago when this commemoration and therefore this dawn service was not held because of the pressures of covid, I nonetheless came here with my mokopuna,” he said.

“We were the only ones here, so when I look out at the throng of people it’s very different to that morning when we sat here on the maho and I was forced to give karakia myself.”

Tipene said moving forward as a nation means we were also moving forward as individuals “learning from each other”.

The Waitangi Dawn Service 2024.
The Waitangi Day dawn service 2024 this morning. Image: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

“When we learn to live with each other and our personal circumstances, I think we can all move forward too.”

Alistair Reese told the crowds Henry Williams, an Anglican priest who translated the English draft of the Treaty in Māori and explained its provisions to Māori leaders, told the chiefs that the Treaty was “Queen Victoria’s act of love to you”.

Reese said the Treaty was understood by many as a “sacrificial union”.

“It is an ethic that seeks the best outcome for the other and to paraphrase the apostle Paul, love is patient, love is kind, love does not dishonour others and love never fails,” he said.

“So if the Treaty was an act of love by Victoria to Māori, by extension it needs also to be an act of love by our government to Māori.”

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon shared a Bible reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 about working as one body.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the Treaty was the country’s guide to navigating the challenges in partnership.

“Te Tiriti binds us together as we work towards a fairer Aotearoa, in which all of our people can flourish and prosper, [it] inspires us to be kind, to be compassionate, to be grateful and to do good.”

Departing Greens co-leader James Shaw chose a popular quote about love and Tina Turner’s “what’s love got to do with it” was also quoted in the speeches.

‘We’ve got a lot of work to do’ – Luxon

Waitangi Day 2024 Feb 6
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks at the Treaty Grounds, Waitangi Day 2024. Image: RNZ

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told RNZ’s Waitangi Day programme he wanted a country that was unified but respected differences too.

“I actually think that’s what’s amazing about Waitangi … where else on Earth would you see everyone, with all the diverse sets of opinions and views … actually all choose to come together and express those views in one place. I can’t think of any country that does it, I think it’s very unique and special.”

He said he had been inspired.

He visited a settlement on Friday with “Third World housing in a First World country”.

Luxon said the solution to housing was easing the consenting process, partnering up with iwi, and getting the money to the community to provide housing.

“When you look at the issues across Māoridom . . .  we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Speaking about increased attention on ACT and New Zealand First, Luxon said that was the reality of MMP.

“New Zealand First, ACT and National are all very united on getting houses built for Māori up and down this country, so that’s where we have great commonality.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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