When is Waitangi day?
Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s national day. It is a holiday held annually on February 6th to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – New Zealand’s founding document – on February 6th 1840.
Since the change in the Holiday Act in January 2014, if Waitangi Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be observed as a holiday.
History of Waitangi Day
The Treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Māori rights to their land and gave Māori the rights of British citizens.
The treaty was signed in Waitangi, a town in the Bay of Islands, by a group of Maori chiefs and the British Government, as represented by Lieutenant-Governor Hobson.
In February 1840, it was at Te Tii marae where Ngāpuhi (the largest Māori iwi – tribe) hosted around 10,000 Māori to debate the agreement for several days. On February 6th, Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by around 40 Māori rangatira (chiefs) and representatives of the British Crown outside British Government Representative James Busby’s house (now known as Treaty House) on the Waitangi grounds.
The treaty (‘te Tiriti’) was subsequently signed by another 500 Māori chiefs in various locations throughout the country.
The Māori are the Indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, which they called Aotearoa (“land of the long white cloud”). They arrived from Polynesian islands sometime before 1300 AD. They are the first known inhabitants before the Europeans arrived in the early 1800s.
There are significant differences between the Māori and English language versions of the Treaty, and since 1840 the question of what obligations the Treaty of Waitangi placed on each side has been a subject of contention ever since.
The day was first officially commemorated in 1934 and in 1957, Waitangi Day was proposed as a public holiday by the New Zealand Labour Party in their party manifesto. After Labour won the election they were reluctant to create a new public holiday. Instead, the Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1960 which made it possible for a local region to substitute Waitangi Day as an alternative to an existing public holiday.
In 1973, legislation was passed to recognise this date as a nation-wide public holiday to commemorate the signing of te Tiriti. However, it also renamed the date as New Zealand Day, with the intention of creating a sense of nationhood.
The inaugural New Zealand Day public holiday in 1974 featured a two-and-a-half-hour event, watched by 20,000 people at Waitangi (including members of the Royal family) and broadcast live.
There was criticism that the name change diminished te Tiriti. In 1976, the Waitangi Day Act restored the former name, and for the first time, Waitangi Day was a public holiday to commemorate the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
In the last 25–30 years the style and mood of the commemorations have been influenced by the increasingly heated debate surrounding the status of the Treaty of Waitangi in modern-day New Zealand.
To commemorate the signing, the Prime Minister of New Zealand will visit Waitangi and the Treaty House where the Treaty was signed.