Today we mark 181 years since the first signatures were put to the Treaty of Waitangi on Thursday 6 February 1840. Rightly this day is a public holiday in New Zealand, and the day is most commonly referred to as Waitangi Day.
The history of Aotearoa-New Zealand as taught in the schools of our country did not feature the Treaty and its implications until the mid-twentieth century. Until this point, history was presented from the view-point of the confiscating colonials. This view generally considered that the European had been generous to the Maori in the terms of the Treaty.
It is also now accepted that Maori and European had significantly different understandings of what they were accepting and agreeing to in this document.
Bishop Pompallier, the first Catholic bishop in NZ, had a good relationship with many Maori chiefs (he was fluent in Te Reo), and with the first Catholic settlers. He warned the chiefs to be wary of the Treaty, and not to sign anything.
Perhaps he had something of a French suspicion of British motives. But it is also likely that his knowledge of history reminded him that signatures on parchment are powerless to effectively resolve tensions and to bring harmony.
The bishop did have a clear focus on the Catholic education of the young. In the days before February 6 1840, Bishop Pompallier specifically asked Lieutenant-Governor Hobson for his promise to protect the Catholic faith.
Perhaps Pompallier has been proven prophetic? In these early years of the twenty-first century, traditions of ‘culture’ have at times been used to replace traditional religious belief and practice, even in our Catholic communities.
There is something in the robust living of Catholic faith that opens a Catholic community to a greater expression of cultural diversity. The Catholic community that is faith-fully Catholic becomes even more visibly and robustly multi-cultural with a fearless openness to all people.
Without a sound foundation in lived relationship with God (or even more generally, without a sense of a transcendent reality), cultural beliefs and practices become empty rituals and theories. Without a vibrant culture of faith, all aspects of human existence are reduced to a paddling around in the puddles on the shore of the life-filled ocean.
Every encounter with Jesus entices us into the complete breadth and depth of human existence. In this ultimate relationship, a healthy person becomes bored with what is trivial and superficial.
In the gaze of Jesus we wake up to the fact that without faith both cultural and religious practices become empty rituals and routines and tiresome theories.
Let us pray: as prayed February 6, 2013, Treaty House, Waitangi
E nga Atua o te Moana-nui-a-kiwa, (God of the Pacific Ocean)
Me enei motu o Aotearoa, (And these islands of Aotearoa,)
Nga Atua o te iwi Maori, te iwi Pakeha, (The God of Maori and Pakeha,)
Me ratou katoa e noho nei i tenei whenua; (And all who dwell in this land;)
We delight in the potential of this still, quiet dawn and the precious uniqueness of these green islands of Aotearoa New Zealand.
We give thanks for what is ours and ours alone: For our weta and katipo, our kakapo and kokako; for our Maui dolphins and pipi, our cabbage trees and harakeke.
May we have the courage and the grace to live in harmony with creation – to nurture and protect those wild places that we love and sustain us.
We are thankful for the inspiration of the great women in our own country – Princess Te Puea, Dame Mira Szaszy, Sister Mary Aubert, and Millicent Baxter – women who have shown us how the power of love, peace, compassion, courage, and wisdom can transform poverty and hardship into strength and well being.
How can we, as this country’s leaders, address the inequity that has grown up amongst us?
How can we build a nation where we trust and look after one another – where we are our brother’s and sisters keeper – not their bitter rival?
We look to the children of our country for this inspiration, their unconditional love, their need for care and comfort.
Whakanuia to matou aroha tetahi ki tetahi, (Increase our love and trust in one another)
Whakakahangia to matou whai (And strengthen our quest)
Ki te tika, te hohourongo hoki. (For justice and reconciliation.)
On this Waitangi Day, may Te Tiriti o Waitangi be a reminder of the covenant that two sovereign nations have made with each other.
May Te Tiriti continue to challenge us to honour one another and return love and compassion to the heart of our politics and our lives spent together.