Friday, November 29, 2013

A brief note on Thanksgiving and Waitangi Day

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love it mostly because of the abundance of food but also because it is secular and so it feels like everyone can take part in this celebration.  A lot of my friends message me and tell me they are thankful to have me in their life and I take the time to do the same and reflect on all the things that make my life a blessed one. It really is very great.

But one thing that is completely missing from the American Thanksgiving celebration is Native Americans. It is as if they never even existed. The extent to which Native American rights have been abused, the extent to which they are treated as second class citizens, the extent to which they are an invisible people is astounding.  When children dress up every year as pilgrims and Native Americans to re-enact the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in schools all over America, they ignore history. Many are beginning to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to Columbus Day but this is not widely known let alone accepted. Native Americans are basically rarely in the public discourse and it is bizarre the way history is so easily forgotten by an entire nation.

As you all know from my brief profile on the side, I did not have the privilege of growing up in Aotearoa. A few years after I was born, my parents moved back to Bangladesh from Christchurch. And then they move to America and then I had to find my back to what I call my home. As a result, I’ve never been a super nationalistic or patriotic person. I never know who to swear my allegiance to. I’ll admit that I knew very little about Māori culture when I moved back to New Zealand as an adult. I took Treaty of Waitangi Law as an elective paper at Law School and that was the first time I was started to understand the legal status of the Treaty and the legal rights of our indigenous population. Working at OTS was life changing and I would go back there in a heartbeat not only because the incredible work that’s being done there but also how much I learnt about Māoridom from my negotiations meetings.

Maybe it is because of that or maybe it is because I view the Treaty as a legal document rather than a political document. Maybe it is because I spent all my time looking at the impact of our justice and welfare system on Māori. Maybe it is because I’m a minority and I’m forced occupy many uncomfortable spaces. But I do not find what happens on Waitangi Day uncomfortable or upsetting.

America has managed to put aside all the negative feelings that one should associate with how they have treated their indigenous population not just in the past but in modern history. There are a lot of people that believe that it would be better if Waitangi Day would be akin to Thanksgiving or Fourth of July as our national holiday. Many are disappointed by what happens at Waitangi especially what is directed at politicians. But I am not. Many would like to see that holiday turned into a civilised family gathering and a celebration of our nationhood. I don't think that we are there yet. Not until we accept Māori culture as part of our national identity. And it cannot be just limited to the Haka at All Blacks games. 

I like that politicians have to confront the pain that is in our society, the wounds that have not healed. I like that we as a nation are forced to watch the anger on the 6’ o clock news and know that we cannot just shove our people behind a day at the beach and a barbie with the family. I like that it forces us to ask questions about whether we are divided as a nation and how we can work to bridge that gap. At least I hope it does. The Māori Party was formed because Māori had a voice. A voice they used to stand up to legislation that would take away their rights. The fact that America’s indigenous population don’t have a meaningful voice should not be something we as a nation aspire to achieve. Perhaps we can ensure better means of dialogue on the day. Perhaps the dialogue shouldn't be limited to just one day. And yes, it would be nice if Waitangi Day was a family holiday of celebration and maybe one day it will be but we don’t deserve that day today.


  1. I know next to nothing about Māori politics, but a certain congressional committee's tweets got me wondering if any relationship actually exists between Native cultural tokenism and substantive policy change towards those groups. Best case scenario might be the hollow respect of "support the troops" jingoism, but I have no evidence for that. You know of any cases where Native issues got visibility (and traction) without that risk?

  2. Well I can say that it's certainly not he same in NZ. We have our share of problems but there is absolutely substantive policy discussion and implementation in NZ. The US situation is abominable in comparison. I don't think a comment on a blog would be enough to draw comparison. We can compare notes after the weekend.