Waitangi Day has always filled me with a feeling of “morbid optimism”, writes Annabelle Parata Vaughan (Ngāi Tahu) in this opinion piece. 

On the one hand, Waitangi Day represents grief, theft and decades of colonial-induced wounds for Māori. It’s a reminder of how much language has been lost, stripped away from our mouths. 

It represents the struggle to reclaim what is rightfully ours, and to uphold the document signed on that fateful February day. 

But, on the other hand, it also represents hope and acknowledgement. 

In recent years, Waitangi Day has demonstrated how far Aotearoa has come in terms of revitalising te reo, and the collective power it holds when being spoken by both Māori and non-Māori. 

It shows that the redress of land is possible, and that we can simultaneously acknowledge our colonial history while also imagining a brighter and better future for Indigenous peoples.

It demonstrates that all the hard mahi previous generations of Māori have put in has paid off, and it is being carried on by this new generation. 

And I think this year's Waitangi Day will intensify this feeling of “morbid optimism”.

Full of dread - and seven vodka lime sodas

It was 1:35am, October 15, 2023. 

I was full of dread and seven vodka lime sodas, heading back to my central Wellington hotel after a long election-filled night. 

My Uber driver looked in the rearview mirror. “So, do you know who won the election?” he asked. “I’ve been working all night, so it’s been hard to keep track of the news.” 

I wasn’t sure what to say. An actual coalition agreement was still weeks away, and my inebriated mind was still gaslighting itself into thinking things could swing in an alternative direction.

I found myself in a spiral. I knew Aotearoa was teetering on the precipice of a new political era - a political era that was only about to get even more tense and hostile than before. 

After collecting my thoughts, I finally answered his question. “It looks like it’ll be a National coalition government.” 

‘Suffocating and erasing our Indigenous peoples, culture and language’

Fast forward three months, and it appears we have entered the new political era of tension and hostility myself and many others predicted that October night. 

Since then, this new government has shown no signs of stopping when it comes to attacking Māori. 

Whether it be from trivialising the use of bilingual signs, through to ACT’s attempt to redefine the treaty principles, the call for a review into the ‘effectiveness’ of the Māori and Pasifika Admission Scheme (MAPAS) at our universities, and not to mention the abolition of the Māori Health Authority

There is a sense that this whole government's main agenda is suffocating and erasing our Indigenous peoples, culture and language. 

This Waitangi Day will also set the scene for what is to come in this next term of government. 

If the coalition government was genuinely concerned with getting Aotearoa “back on track” and maintaining our positive image on the world stage, they would be going about their affairs in a vastly different way.

The government's obsession with stoking the fires of racial politics also demonstrates a lack of direction and vision. 

Instead of putting Māori under a microscope and separating people into the ‘have’ and ‘have nots,’ isn’t it time we focus on addressing our other complex problems, such as the cost of living, our poor housing, and failing infrastructure?  

Aotearoa’s embrace of Māoridom differentiates us within the international context, setting an example for how other settler-colonial states can effectively engage with their Indigenous people. 

It makes us the unique and beautiful place we are. 

Erasing that will diminish our credibility, image and the very thing that makes us stand out. 

Heading into Waitangi Day, it appears that these tensions will only increase further. 

It’s no secret that things are feeling dire at the moment, I’m not going to deny that

In fact, the political atmosphere probably has most Māori feeling nothing but frustration, apathy and exhaustion. 

Staring down the barrel of “here we go again”, having to justify our language, culture, land and identity just as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents had to so many years ago. 

But, like I said - there is still a permeating sense of optimism around the motu

Since the coalition government has announced these policies, we have seen political mobilisation like never before. 

We have witnessed urgent filings to the Waitangi Tribunal in attempts to stop these racist and uninformed policies being implemented. 

We have seen a national hui, attracting thousands of people from across the motu standing up in spite of these archaic policies, demonstrating that Māori will not succumb to the oppression, discrimination and control of a Eurocentric government that seeks to rid our sovereignty and self-governance. 

It echoes similarities to the Land Marches of the 1970s, and the Foreshore Seabed conflict of the early 2000s. 

This Waitangi Day will be the culmination of not only these past few months, but also these past few decades. 

It will demonstrate to the coalition government that Māori are here, proud and present. And that any decisions this government makes will not be taken lightly, and that rigorous and adequate questioning, debating and consultation must take place before such power is exercised. 

Banner photo taken by Cam McLaren/Getty Images

Annabelle Parata Vaughan (Ngāi Tahu) is a freelance writer, researcher and reality tv connoisseur originally from Ōtepoti, Dunedin. She has an interest in everything from politics to pop culture. 

More stories: 

The indigenous bond between Māori and Native Americans

“We’re proud and we’re here today because of the resilience our ancestors instilled in us.”

Analysis: Why the Govt should pay attention to this weekend’s national hui

Nothing will be left unsaid.

Leaked ministry document warns Bill could break spirit and text of Treaty

“This is not supported by either the spirit of the Treaty or the text of the Treaty.”