By: Aaron Hape, Executive Director, Commonwealth Youth New Zealand
One of the things I find most fascinating about being part of the Commonwealth is that it is very much like a family. Each member is totally unique – they have different tastes, diverse views, and varying opinions on many issues. These variances often create friction and lead to members ceasing engagement with others, much like a teenager locking themselves in their room after failing to understand why they have just been grounded. However, after a few days (or years…) wary heads become cooled and dialogue resumes.
To me, it is these differences in cultures, in opinions, and in thoughts and attitudes that makes the Commonwealth a worthwhile organisation to be a part of. The Commonwealth Charter goes some way to bringing those values together. It recognises that in an era of unprecedented threats to peace and security, changing economic conditions and uncertainty, new trade and economic patterns, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of and need for the Commonwealth – as a force for good and as an effective system for collaboration and for promoting development – has never been greater.
Today is Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. Each year on 6 February, New Zealanders celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, on that date in 1840. Although this is New Zealand’s national day, the commemoration has often drawn controversy from Māori (New Zealand’s indigenous people) and Pākehā (the Māori word for New Zealanders of European ancestry) alike. Some Māori claim that the three principles of the Treaty have not been honoured by successive governments. Alternatively, some Pākehā claim that Māori, because of their status as New Zealand’s first inhabitants, are treated better than Pākehā where there should be an equal partnership.
This tension is becoming less noticeable. Time heals all wounds, and as the scars of colonialisation become less obvious, those hang-ups and inhibitions seen between two different cultures become less palpable. Strains are definitely less obvious among young New Zealanders. In fact, among the people I have met in my time as Executive Director of Commonwealth Youth New Zealand, there are strong hopes that a lot of the heat can be taken out of our national day and that it can be celebrated in a proper manner.
Comparatively, we have it pretty good down here in New Zealand. We are so far away from anything else (Australia is a three-hour flight away) that international developments seem remote and distant. This does not mean that we shirk our responsibilities of being good global citizens – if anything, it enhances it. With New Zealand now holding a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, New Zealand is poised to play its part in important negotiations and peace-making, just as it has done as part of the Commonwealth family since the organisation’s creation.