“The 2024 unity in favour of Te Tiriti was undeniable, but breaches are still promised.” — Catherine Delahunty. Pictured, the group from Hauraki at Waitangi. (Photo supplied)

Catherine Delahunty reflects on the strength of unity at Waitangi this year, and the growing support from tangata Tiriti, in the face of the coalition government’s agenda on Te Tiriti, te reo and other Māori policies.


For some of us, there is a magnetic pull to attend Waitangi each February. It’s powerful to stand where the rangatira and the Crown stood in 1840 to debate their relationship before the signing of Te Tiriti — and to listen and learn on that ground where the Crown committed to limited authority in exchange for a place to live peacefully. Despite the broken promises and colonial violence, just being there can be inspirational.

This year, that pull was felt by many more people than usual because of the new government’s direct attacks on Te Tiriti and te reo. My friends and I who work on Te Tiriti allyship in Hauraki arrived on the morning of February 4 into a buzz of activity. Already, the roadway leading to Te Tii marae and campground was occupied by vans and tents. Already, Te Kara and the tino rangatiratanga flag were flying high.

For me, Waitangi is a giant reunion, and the first people I met were the Poroti hapū and whāanau who had fought to protect their water from commercial development. They’re people I supported when I was in parliament.

Next, I was waving at numerous faces from Network Waitangi Whangārei as they assembled their tent and set out their information next to the Greens, who used to be my party, and many of whom will always be my friends. Later, I was to meet the midwife who delivered my daughter more than 40 years ago. She was wearing a “Tangata Tiriti” T-shirt.

The focus for our day was paying our respects at the memorial for Moana Jackson. When we crossed Te Tou Rangatira and entered the heat of the tent, all the grief came back and rose in my throat. I’m one of many who owes so much of my Te Tiriti education to Moana. I was sitting next to some young people in astonishingly white uniforms, the navy contingent, and I asked the boy next to me what he knew about the man we were here to respect. He said he didn’t know much about him but he thought Moana had been in the navy. Someone hadn’t briefed their lower ranks.

In the packed tent, however, there were many people who did know why they were there and who he was. They were his whānau, the people from Ngā Tamatoa, and other activists for whom Moana was a beloved source of wisdom over many years.

What would he say now to the Crown at this moment of fresh betrayal? Annette Sykes answered this question at the Crown pōwhiri the next day, speaking truth to power with unforgettable clarity.

The dawn of February 5, 2024, was dressed in white symbols. My friends from Hauraki joined the Tame Iti creative event. I didn’t make it until the final moments, but I could see the uplifted faces of the participants, elated by this tangible expression of the space between sky and earth, the challenge to write a new truth. Te Tiriti artforms colour the endless debate at Waitangi, creating images and questions that reach different parts of our minds and hearts.

From the sublime, we moved on to the Forum tent presentation by Shane Jones and Tama Potaka. The main message was that we must trade off the environment for the “economy”. A kuia in front of me yelled: “Stop selling us out!” A young tāne spoke about other ways to create energy and food without destructive industries. I was thinking about Hauraki and the 40 years of fighting foreign miners. A young friend took me by the arm and walked me to the edge of the sea, and we stood in the water, where I cooled my rage from the soles of my feet.

Up at the top, at the Te Tiriti marae, the Crown was attempting to explain their attack on Te Tiriti. The prime minister made a nothing speech, David Seymour was sung down, and Winston Peters got shouted at and told people to “get some manners”. I missed this because I was heading back to the Forum tent to co-chair the tangata Tiriti panel. But there were big screens everywhere, broadcasting these moments.

You could feel the anger but also the restraint. Ngāpuhi were in charge and were respected. No one threw a dildo. But did the Crown feel the depth of the disgust towards their policies? Maybe when Annette Sykes told them off.

At the Forum tent, there was a panel unfolding — and the disabled Te Tiriti voices were on stage and formally demanding access to the debate. They were also warning about this government. Dr Huhana Hickey reminded me that David Seymour could extend the “End of Life Choice” law to create even greater pressure on disabled people. This has happened overseas where similar laws have seen disabled people go from being under-resourced and dehumanised to better-off-dead.

The Tangata Tiriti movement is changing. It’s no longer just Pākehā. (Photo supplied)

The tangata Tiriti panel was an honour for us. Those of us who work on this kaupapa have reason to be grateful as well as needing to be accountable. I was also grateful that our movement is changing. It’s no longer just Pākehā. Our panel speakers were Sāmoan, Taiwanese, Tongan, Indian and Pākehā. Our focus was the education of our multiple communities about Te Tiriti — and our challenge right now is to make sure that education leads to urgent, committed action for Te Tiriti.

My highlight on the panel was the poem written that very day by Karlo Mila: We have a history, rewritten, as peaceful acquisition . . . may tino rangatiratanga breathe beyond that page.

The big day boiled on with thousands of people pouring into the events. It took me 20 minutes to get a real fruit strawberry ice-cream, but it was worth the wait. The Tainui pōwhiri was enormous. On the way from the upper grounds to the Forum tent, I banged into John Campbell for the fifth time dashing after human interest stories and capturing diverse Māori voices.

The Wai 262 panel was enlivened by Ella Henry who suggested that being colonised by the French might’ve been more fun, with better bread and better wine. The Ngā Tamatoa panel was humbling. Donna Awatere demanded to know what the audience who’d been here before had actually done for the kaupapa. Angeline Greensill told us the historic story of the arrests at Whaingaroa, the so-called Raglan Golf Course. Mereana Pitman referred to a certain prime minister as a Faberge Egg. Annette Sykes held it together and blew us away with her crystal-clear analysis of sovereignty unceded.

The Palestine panel told stories which were brutal echoes of our own history, made painful in the genocidal present. Colonisation is violent and shameful. Only unity of purpose will stop it.

As the sun set on the beach at Waitangi, we ate our fish and chips, and looked out at the grey bulk of the navy ship, in the space where two huge cruise liners had been. We reflected on our big day of debate, and we looked forward to tomorrow.

But, on February 6, from 8am to 10am, we were locked down in a traffic jam from Puketona Junction to Paihia. The word from Waitangi was that the hīkoi from Cape Reinga, which we’d hoped to join on the last leg, was already over the Waitangi bridge.

Our mates who’d been at the dawn service said the numbers of people were the biggest ever. The newsflash was that some church kōrero was pretty staunch for Te Tiriti but “land back” promises are yet to be made.

Waitangi 2024. (Photo supplied)

It was so hot, our mates said, that people were putting their children under any available tap. And, at the edge of the tide, the 30 or so horses from the hīkoi were cooling off while their humans tried to keep tourists away from their legs.

We decided to abandon the traffic and head south to Te Ruapekapeka, one of the first battle sites after Te Tiriti was signed. It was cool and beautiful on the ridge below the pā. We were silenced by the vista across the north, and the emptiness and peace (apart from an alarm ringing endlessly in a farmhouse across the road).

The walk to the pā was hot and ominous, the fortification mounds appearing, the pits disappearing. We sat and listened to Mihingarangi Forbes’ RNZ story of the battle. You could see the British camp in direct line of sight of the fortifications, and you could try to imagine the 10 days of shelling of these massive defences.

Te Ruapekapeka was a battle fought in 1846 to challenge the breaches of Te Tiriti. We stood on the hill and looked north towards Waitangi, where the 2024 unity in favour of Te Tiriti was undeniable, but breaches are still promised.


Catherine Delahunty is a Pākehā activist in environmental, social justice, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi issues. She is a writer and a tutor on social change issues, and a grandmother. Catherine was a Green MP for nine years and lives in Hauraki.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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