New Zealand High Commissioner
Remarks on Waitangi Day
May I say Talofa Lava, Malo Le Soifua. It is a great privilege for Debbie and I to welcome you all to this celebration to honour Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. It is a great honour also to speak on my first Waitangi Day as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Samoa and NZ’s Administrator for Tokelau.
On this day 177 years ago, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori chiefs and the British Crown began to take place. In this second decade of the 21st century, it is a long time back to that date now. New Zealanders look back with the knowledge that the period since has seen New Zealand's development into a mature nation – a nation that identifies as part of the Pacific.
In 1962, Lord Cobham called the place named Waitangi “hallowed ground” when he said it is one of the few places upon this earth where good sense once prevailed over passion and prejudice. It brought together two races who settled down together to achieve full nationhood for a young and undeveloped country.
A fair and correct application of the Treaty of Waitangi is as important in 2017 as it was in 1840. Our history tells us that for many years, the Treaty was neglected – in law, policy and practice. It was not until 1975 that the Treaty was officially recognised in law and in the decades since has continued to be part of discussion about New Zealand’s identity. The Treaty has formed the starting point for discussion and dialogue, some of it robust. Communication and debate continue to be at the heart of recognising and honouring the Treaty of Waitangi.
As her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said herself at Waitangi in 1990: ‘working together, the people of New Zealand can make a country which is strong and united, and unique among the nations of the earth’.
New Zealand is a country of immigrants. The tangata whenua, the original inhabitants of the land have been joined by people from around the world – people from Samoa and other Pacific nations, European nations, Australia, Asia, the Americas and Africa. Their children have been born as citizens of New Zealand, representative both of the promise of our country and the commitment made by those who have journeyed to Aotearoa, New Zealand.
I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the importance of Samoan people to New Zealand and my connections with Samoa.
This year is the 55th anniversary of Samoa’s independence from New Zealand and of the Treaty of Friendship between our two nations. The Treaty of Friendship is special as neither nation has signed such a document with any other nation. That reinforces to me the strong diplomatic, constitutional, economic, social and cultural ties between New Zealand and Samoa.
The relationship between New Zealand and Samoa is unique and is characterised by a spirit of cooperation and friendship. Both of our countries have worked to ensure that the Treaty remains a meaningful document through initiatives as diverse as the arts, education, health, justice, disaster preparedness and response and tourism. NZ’s and Samoa’s joint ongoing commitment, collaboration and investment in these areas ensure that the Treaty remains a living document.
In addition to the Treaty of Friendship are the close ties between the peoples of Samoa and New Zealand. The 2013 census shows that there are more than 144,000 people of Samoan descent living in New Zealand (by 2017 I expect this figure will have greatly increased); Samoans make up almost half of all Pacific peoples living in Aotearoa. For those Samoans living in New Zealand you may be interested to know that:
• The most common region this group lived in was Auckland (66.5 percent or 95,916 people).
• The median age was 21.5 years.
• 62.7 percent (89,271 people) were born in New Zealand and 37.3 percent (53,106 people) were born overseas.
The Samoan whanau in New Zealand have enriched our country’s diverse cultural mix and added its vitality to New Zealand’s society, sports, culture, arts and economy. Samoan New Zealanders have contributed much to all aspects of New Zealand society and community.
It is usual here to list the many sons and daughters of Samoa who have given so much to sport – most recently the achievements of Joseph Parker being the most obvious. I would like today however to acknowledge my personal connection to some rising stars.
My most direct connection is through my wife Debbie and her family. Debbie is the pre-eminent advocate, researcher and practioner of the health of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. She has devoted her working life to the betterment of Pacific people in New Zealand and I have learned a great deal from her about culturally competent services, health workforce development and the importance of connecting policy and and implementation to effect positive outcomes for people from government and private sector delivery.
We are delighted to have Marlena Devoe with us tonight, an international opera star, and winner of many prestigious international awards. I first met Marlena, when as a teenager she came to stay with us in Wellington while competing in national competitions when she was first starting her career in opera.
I also noted reading in the Sunday Samoan newspaper yesterday a story about NZ Samoan playwright and author Victor Roger. Victor was a pupil of mine when I was a school teacher in Christchurch. I remember him well as the most gentle young man, but because of his impressive stature and intelligence I persuaded him to become a prop forward in the first 15 rugby team that I coached. I am pleased to report that he is a more successful playwright than our team was in the Christchurch under 18 and schools first 15 competition – I hope in the next 4 years he will visit Samoa and I can seek his understanding and forgiveness.
Samoans living in New Zealand strive to maintain a strong sense of their heritage. The recent census shows that Samoan people maintain the highest proportion of people able to speak a heritage language. Sadly, because my wife is my tutor you will note that my Samoan language skills can best be described as considerable work in progress.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate how much Debbie and I and our family have enjoyed our first two weeks back in Samoa, and the warmth and hospitality we have received in this beautiful land. A big faafetai to my staff for all the hard work to make tonight happen. On that note, we welcome you here tonight and invite you to enjoy the hospitality.
May I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel and the Taumeasina Island Resort and their staff who embraced Waitangi Day with a Haka Challenge. I understand, and I quote “facebook is on fire with reposts”. Malo lava
May I close by speaking in Maori, issuing greetings and wishing you good health and fortitude in your endeavours. Faafetai tele lava.
No reira, tena koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tena koutou katoa.