Over the last couple of days I’ve been getting calls from friends, colleagues and media organisations wanting to know what was happening at Waitangi this year.

Here’s what I’ve been telling them. 

Depending on your point of view, Waitangi day is either a day of celebrations, a day of rage against the government or, for the majority on NZers, a day off work to enjoy a long summer weekend.

All of these aspects come together at Waitangi on Waitangi day.

The Navy provides a bit of pomp and ceremony backed up by the frigates firing their guns out in the bay. The Government provides some bouncy castles and other family friendly activities and entertainment across the bridge at the Treaty grounds.

Meanwhile at the “bottom” marae, the local elders and community welcome and feed the thousands of visitors who come to participate in weekends activities.

A political forum tent adjacent to the marae hosts a number of presentations on topical issues and local not for profit groups and local marae raise funds and display goods and services.

The government public relations objectives at Waitangi are to present the view that the Treaty of Waitangi and Waitangi day represent the founding of the New Zealand State, that it signifies national unity and pride in our national heritage.

However the objectives of many Maori in attendance are to present the view that nothing could be further the truth.

In the past, various Prime Ministers and politicians have attempted to run this gauntlet at the bottom marae and attempt to brazenly “walk through” opposition to their policies.  I’m personally very pleased that they’ve finally decided to abandon this act of political theatre.

Predictably the mainstream media prowls the streets looking for conflict at potential flashpoints  and historically these images of conflict are what shapes how many people view Waitangi day.

However far from the hot glare of the media spotlights a number of other things are happening. For example, on Thursday 2nd February a significant gathering of Maori leaders occurred at the Copthorne Hotel at Waitangi. Tribal leaders representing Iwi from across the country were in attendance to consider reports from various technical working parties established to analyse issues and develop consensus amongst member tribal groups. This is the National Maori forum known as the Iwi Leaders Group.

The various issues reported on included constitutional political issues, environmental and social issues and each one of these generic themes contained a myriad of second tier issues that required analysis, understanding and remediation.

Part of the overall discussion reflected the need to consolidate some of the various working groups. In order to maintain a consistent approach it was suggested that all natural resource issues including climate change should be folded into one working group.

Of course I totally agree, there are a lot of very important and serious issues, but then there is the climate crisis. The difference being that, if we don’t solve the climate crisis, nothing else matters.

As if to reinforce this perspective, as the meeting broke for morning tea, I found myself on the balcony looking over the Waitangi river towards the bottom marae on the opposite side of the river.

The marae and the adjacent substantial settlement is build on a sandbar at sea level. It would only take a sea level rise of less than 1 meter to wash away the marae, two motor camps the hotel, the supermarket and upwards of 60 houses.

Some historical wit coined the phrase, “The devil's in the detail” and this is particularly true of climate change, a relatively simplistic three syllable expression that has earth shattering implications.

We have to unpack this issue in all its complexity to understand its urgency and then go to the source of the problem if we have any chance of minimising its impacts on future generations.

One of the things I like about Greenpeace is its willingness to not only make this analysis but then to take direct action on the root causes and it’s encouraging that so many New Zealanders are going the dots between the climate emergency and fossil fuels and are now prepared to take action.

Later this month you can expect further climate  action from Maori and Greenpeace.

And make sure to get yourself to the People’s Climate Rally