New Zealand creates public holiday to celebrate Māori new year

Jacinda Ardern had pledged to make Matariki a holiday in the 2020 election; it will be celebrated for the first time on 24 June 2022

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has fulfilled her election promise of making the Māori new year celebration Matariki a public holiday – the first official day to celebrate Māori in the world.

Ardern confirmed the holiday next year during her speech at the upper marae at Waitangi on Thursday. “Matariki is a uniquely Māori and therefore New Zealand-based celebration … and in our view it’s been a long time coming.”

Matariki is the Māori name given to the Pleiades cluster of stars, which rises in mid-winter in the southern hemisphere – marking the start of the Māori new year. The constellation’s reappearance in the night sky has been celebrated at events across New Zealand since the early 2000s, though Māori party MP Rahui Katene’s attempt to have it recognised as a public holiday failed in 2009.

That call was renewed last year with campaigns by the news site Stuff, and advocates ActionStation and New Zealand Republic. A poll of 1,128 people conducted by UMR found that 63% supported Matariki being made a public holiday with those under 45 most likely to approve.

Labour vowed to make Matariki a public holiday at the 2020 election. The first celebration of the holiday will be 24 June next year, though the dates will shift in accordance with Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar.

“We wanted to bring in those who had the expertise in order to establish those first dates,” said Ardern.

Holidays for the coming 30 years will soon be decided with the newly-established Matariki advisory group – though it is expected to always fall on either a Monday or Friday, between Queen’s Birthday in June and Labor Day in late October.

Chair Rangiānehu Matamua – a professor at the University of Waikato, specialising in Māori astronomy – said it was important to recognise regional differences in how iwi (tribes) mark the start of the Matariki each year.

The group would also advise on how the event should be celebrated, and develop resources to educate the public about its meaning and other indigenous wisdom. Ardern said she saw the new public holiday as “an opportunity to learn more about Matariki” and to support other initiatives such as learning Māori history in schools.

The government is also hoping a new holiday will help to boost the tourism sector by encouraging domestic travel through winter and – once borders reopen to international visitors – as a “uniquely New Zealand holiday experience to market to the world”.

The new public holiday will be legislated in the Holidays Act later this year. It is New Zealand’s twelfth public holiday since Waitangi Day was introduced nearly 50 years ago.

Speaking to media after her speech, Ardern said her government was committed to making progress for Māori and navigating the relationship under the Treaty of Waitangi.

“There will never be a time – I think, if we are honest with ourselves – that we will stand here at Waitangi and say that we have reached a point of perfection, because there will always be challenges.

“Some will be those entrenched ones that we have been working on as a nation for decades, and others will be new to us. But what is important is that we fundamentally change the way we resolve them – that’s the shift we’ve been looking for as a government.”

She refuted a reporter’s suggestion that transformational change was “too hard”.

“Things that will stand us in good stead for changing the way that our next generation thinks about New Zealand, who we are – things like learning history in schools – those are the things that lay the foundation for us doing things differently.”

Ardern and her ministers will attend the National Iwi Chairs Forum on Friday, held virtually due to Covid concerns, ahead of the Waitangi Day dawn ceremony on Saturday.


Elle Hunt in Wellington

The GuardianTramp

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