Waitingi Day, Now tell me why we are cringing – Lizzie Marvelly. 

This is the story of a good Kiwi farmer. Let’s call him Joseph Smith.

Joseph’s family had been toiling the land for generations. That all changed, however, the day Joseph signed the Agreement.

The Agreement seemed like a great idea at the time. Signed by most of the farmers around the country, it formalised the Government’s promises of partnership and protection. It guaranteed the farmers ownership of their land. It seemed like a way to control the lawless foreign city-dwellers as they flooded into country towns. A way to work together towards a brighter future.

A few of Smith’s mates refused to sign. They were wary of the Government, and felt it couldn’t be trusted. They suspected that the Government – run, as it was, by city-dwellers – was bound to prioritise urban interests.

Smith dismissed their concerns, a decision he bitterly regretted when the Government stole his farm. This annexation of his family land was, of course, in breach of the Agreement, but the Government didn’t seem to care.

Some of Smith’s friends had their farms stolen too, while his northern cousins sold theirs to the Government, receiving £341 in return for 3000 acres of land, 44 acres of which sold for £24,275 just nine months later.

They had no access to valuation or legal services, and by the time they realised they’d been duped, it was too late.

Some of Smith’s friends resisted the Government, but after seeing their wives raped, their children killed and their homes burnt in retaliation, Smith decided to comply with the foreigners.

With the farm gone, however, Smith found he could no longer care for his family. His kids, once happy and well-fed, became anxious and withdrawn.

They were punished at school for speaking their country dialect, and forced to speak like city-dwellers. They were taught that the farmers were better off now that the city-dwellers had taken charge. They learnt about the city-dwellers’ history rather than their own.

Smith and his family moved from place to place, as he sought work on the farms once owned by his friends and family

Smith’s sons, like their father before them, adjusted to simply living for the day: taking whatever menial jobs they could find to put food on the table, and spending whatever was left on the only escape still available to them – booze.

They watched their kids grow up, and saw their sons go off to fight a war for the city-dwellers against other city-dwellers in a faraway land. A war that would be forever remembered, while the wars the city-dwellers had fought against the farmers would be almost wilfully forgotten.

Only Smith’s youngest grandson, John, returned home from the war. Despite his service to the country, he was left out of the ballot for returning soldiers to be given a piece of land to farm by the Government.

The city-dweller soldiers received land set aside to be “resettled”, while Smith went with his father to the freezing works, where John Smith’s son Edward would eventually join him, and his son after him.

When John Smith finally retired, he was given a pension by the Government. As a descendant of the farmers, he received only half what retired city-dwellers collected.

He would often sit with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and tell them stories of what life was like before the Agreement, stories that had been passed down the generations.

As they grew older, some of those great-grandchildren began to protest. They joined with the other descendants of the farmers, and took their concerns to Parliament. They were met with fierce resistance from the city-dwellers, but they had nothing left to lose. “Honour the Agreement!” the farmers would chant as they marched.

Eventually, they began to gain momentum. A panel was set up to right historical wrongs. The Agreement was finally recognised. A relationship began to develop between the city-dwellers and the farmers. It wasn’t always plain sailing, but progress was being made.

The city-dwellers began to adopt the customs of the farmers, performing their songs and chants on important occasions. The farmers’ dialect was formally recognised, and taught to children in schools. The anniversary of the signing of the Agreement was observed as a celebration of the nation.

The Anniversary Day was always fraught, as the signing of the Agreement and the manner in which it was subsequently ignored had forever changed the lives of the farmers.

While progress was celebrated widely around the country, pain would remain for generations.

Protest became a regular part of the proceedings, as was perhaps fitting, given that the farmers would never have been treated fairly by the Government had it not been for their peaceful resistance efforts.

And then, one Agreement Anniversary Day during an election year, the leader of the Government was invited to celebrate with the farmers at the place where the Agreement was signed.

The farmers, wise to the potential for heated politicking on the historic day, decided to separate the celebration of the occasion and the political discussions. The leader of the Government was invited to speak, “freely and uninhibited” immediately after the traditional proceedings had concluded.

He, the leader of the people, appointed to represent both the city-dwellers and the farmers, and the many people who had since moved to the land, refused the invitation, demanding instead that he determine when during the proceedings he should speak. He also refused to attend the sacred service on the morning of the Anniversary, sending his deputy, a descendent of farmers, instead.

He told the nation’s media that the proceedings and the celebrations of the day made people “cringe”. He decided instead to spend the day in the city.

The story of the farmers and the city-dwellers is, of course, an allegory. It is, however, based on a true story. Our story. The one we often try to forget.

Change the names Joseph to Hohepa, John to Hone, and Edward to Eruera. Replace “farmer” with “Māori” and “city-dweller” with “Pākehā”.

Now tell me why we are cringing.

NZ Herald

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