Waitangi Day is a national day celebrated annually in New Zealand on 6 February.
The day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between the British Crown and the Māori chiefs, which is considered the founding document of New Zealand.
The treaty was created during the establishment of a New Zealand colony by the New Zealand Company and some Māori leaders seeking British protection against French expansion. It aimed to establish British governance, recognise Māori land ownership and grant Māori equal rights as British subjects. The Treaty aimed to ensure Māori rights were not overlooked when Lieutenant Governor Hobson declared British sovereignty over New Zealand in May 1840.
Waitangi Day was first celebrated in 1934 and became a national public holiday in 1974.
Despite being a day of national importance, Waitangi Day has been a focus of protest for decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, activists called for greater recognition of the treaty and its honouring by the state.
Some protesters have gone as far as calling it a fraud and a means by which the Pākehā (a white New Zealander as opposed to a Māori person) conned Māori out of their land.
In recent years, Waitangi Day celebrations have been an opportunity for Māori to raise awareness of issues important to them, including treaty breaches, persistent inequality, and high Māori incarceration rates. In 2018, Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern‘s five-day visit to Waitangi was, however, widely praised. She was the first female Prime Minister to be given speaking rights on the marae (a communal or sacred place) by Ngāpuhi (the largest tribe in New Zealand).
Despite the controversies surrounding Waitangi Day, it remains an important day in New Zealand’s national calendar.