Waitangi Day: The hope my ancestors had for this country

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First Person: I feel like I’ve lived two very different lives. The first, when I was at kura, basking in my reo and the mātauranga of my tūpuna.

RNZ reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui at Waitangi

RNZ reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui tries to imagine what those who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi had in mind for their children and mokopuna. Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

A moment in time where I never heard my name mispronounced, or knew how it felt to be whakamā.

The second, when I left and walked into my first Pākehā classroom. Where no one looked like me or spoke my language. Where my competence in te reo didn’t mean anything if I couldn’t speak or spell in English.

That classroom has become a microcosm of my life – almost every room I’ve walked into since has looked and felt the same.

When I think about the Treaty, I try to imagine what my ancestors envisaged when they signed it. What did they dream about the night of 6 February, 1840, as the ink dried? What hopes did they hold in their hearts for the future Aotearoa their children and mokopuna would one day come to know?

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I believe their dream for me was the version of Aotearoa I experienced in my first life.

My kura growing up was split into two parts – one was a total immersion unit made up of several classrooms we called Te Whānau o Ngā Rito, and the other, a traditional primary school where the kids spoke English.

Both parts of the school were entirely independent of each other, but existed as one; coming together often at assemblies to celebrate both our successes, and compete in sports and academics. We played with the Pākehā kids at lunch time, and saw them in our shared spaces on the playground and in the library, but we always returned to the four walls that encased our culture and our language. The place that kept us grounded in who we were.

I believe that was the hope my ancestors had for this country. A place where Māori and Pākehā would co-exist but maintain the independence of our beliefs, our language, our knowledge and way of life. Neither one superior or more valued than the other, but both able to thrive.

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Waitangi Day is rightfully a sad day for many because systemic Treaty breaches have had tangible impacts. It’s heart-breaking to think all these years later my ancestors’ dream hasn’t even come close to being fulfilled. But it’s also a day of hope – it has to be – because too many generations have fought too hard for us to give up.

Waitangi treaty Grounds 2021

The scene at the treaty grounds in Waitangi yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

When I was young, I used to watch the protesters at Waitangi on TV and think about how angry they looked. Now I know that actually, above all, they are hopeful. Hopeful that their words might resonate with people in power. Hopeful that the Treaty, and all that their ancestors dreamed of, might one day become reality.

*Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

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