National | Novel Coronavirus / COVID-19

Where did the huge crowds that descended on Waitangi yesterday go?

Only the hearty and committed rose at 5 am this morning to raise the flag of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni, a far cry from the throngs who descended upon Te Tī Marae less than 24 hours earlier, leading to comments that not all people who were welcomed yesterday were there for the proper reasons.

This morning hapū and iwi of Northland met on sacred ground to commemorate the signing of the 1835 covenant but also to remember those who had signed.

Ngāpuhi kaumātua Hone Sadler says that celebrating the anniversary should be the only reason people are coming to Waitangi at this time.

"That group and their protests, we didn't want them to come to Waitangi because it would make the celebrations secondary."

Tohe Ashby, one of the main spokespeople for He Whakaputanga, was happy for people to attend the pōhiri regardless of their motivations but he was wary of those who came unannounced.

"Ka hoki taku kōrero i taku tupuna i a Tā Hemi Henare, koia tēnei tana kōrero. Mena haere mai ana etahi tangata ki runga i tō whenua, horekau he mea e haere mai ana mō te aha, e haere mai ana ki te pakanga."

Guardians of taonga

"I will go back to what my ancestor Sir James Henare said. If someone comes onto your land without a real reason, then they have come to fight."

For 186 years, Ngāpuhi has guarded the mana of the Declaration of Independence. Signed in 1835, it declared Nu Tireni to be a sovereign state.

In 1831, 13 Ngāpuhi chiefs wrote to King William IV to seek an alliance and protection from other powers. On October 28, 1835, James Busby took this a step further at a hui he had called at Waitangi. By the end of the day, 34 rangatira had signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni.

Sadler says that there are two sacred documents that Ngāpuhi hold dear to their hearts.

"Te Tiriti and The Declaration, those two treasures began within our boundaries, and we are the guardians of those taonga.

"In the year 2021, Ngāpuhi holds fast to its beliefs and its beliefs in The Declaration. We will never let these treasures dissipate."

But Tohe had a warning for those of his people who he says were looking to supplant the mana of the document.

"We must be aware of those of us jumping the fence to the side of the Crown lest they take The Declaration and use it for themselves."