Is this pumped up, provocatively-labelled image a true representation of the day itself? As a nation do we actually understand what it means? Is there anything positive from our history that we can truly celebrate on Waitangi Day?
I believe the Treaty of Waitangi marks an important moment in our shared heritage as New Zealanders. It remembers a time when our ancestors came together to find a workable solution to the growing political and social unrest which had begun to develop during the 1800s.
A wave of settlers arrived in New Zealand during the late 1830's bringing with them a strong pioneer spirit and greed for land. Without significant restrictions and legislation general disorder began to escalate and land grabbing got out of hand. A solution was required to protect the rights and interests of both Maori and the growing number of British settlers. The Treaty of Waitangi was established as a way of moving forward as a nation and is commemorated on 6 February each year.
Several missionaries to New Zealand were very involved in the treaty process and believed that the treaty would protect the rights of Maori. Although largely forgotten and often maligned in media the lives of the men and women who helped bring the gospel to New Zealand are worthy of our celebration and memory on Waitangi Day.
Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary Henry Williams was born in England and joined the British Royal Navy aged 14. After 10 years of service Henry retired went on to meet and marry his wife Marianne Coldham. The influence of Henry's close friend and brother-in-law Edward Marsh led Henry to seek ordination and become a missionary.
Henry and Marianne arrived in New Zealand in 1823, and were soon joined by Henry's brother, William Williams, and his wife Jane. Based at the mission station in Paihia, the brothers were quick to focus on learning the Maori language. Their dedication and hard work resulted in the publication of several passages of scripture to be used for ministry in New Zealand. Their translation work was continued with the arrival of William Colenso in 1834. By 1838 the entire New Testament and Prayer Book had been translated and printed.
Henry Williams recognised the need for people to be at peace with God. This was a great motivator for his study of Maori language and culture. Henry and William were leaders in training other missionaries to learn te reo (the Maori language) comprehensively in order to enhance the effectiveness of their preaching and ministry to local people.
Henry's friendship and love of the Maori people he worked with were evident. On several occasions he is recorded to have stepped in to calm conflict before warring tribes could come to blows. His labours to preserve the peace were well known.
By 1839 he had successfully set up mission stations at Tauranga, the East Cape and Otaki. This success was overshadowed by the mounting tension between the Maori people and European forces. Henry was often used as a mediator between British military forces and Maori tribal leaders, leading to his involvement in the translation and signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
His actions and words make it clear that Henry's true motivation for supporting the treaty was a desire for recognition of Maori rights to land and protection from the Queen, and peace between Maori and European people.
Many Maori chiefs were won by Henry Williams' godly character and signed the treaty in good faith that the European government would be the same. I believe he would be disappointed with how godless men have used their power and influence to distort the treaty.
As we come together each year to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi let us reflect on our past, and learn from it. Let us be men and women of peace, laying aside our biases to consider the concerns and needs of others before our own. Let us commit again to journey with one another toward reconciliation and understanding.
Like Henry Williams, may our motivation be one of selfless love for others, a desire to be a peace with each other, and a desire for all people to be at peace with God.
Writing is both a personal and professional passion of mine. After working in journalism, public relations and the performing arts I am currently taking some time out to focus on the new adventure of motherhood. My husband Andrew and I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we enjoy spending time with our large extended family and serving our local church.
Sophia Sinclair previous articles may be viewed at ' target='_blank'>www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html