February 6 marks the first signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) between the British and representatives of Māori tribes in 1840 at Waitangi where Lieutenant-Governor Hobson declared ‘he iwi tahi tatou’ – Now we are one people.
Over the next 7 months 9 copies of the Treaty were signed by different iwi at many different locations. Te Āti Awa signed the treaty in April and May 1840. (Henry Williams treaty copy, NZ History)
The Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi were given to the nation by Governor-General Lord Bledisloe in 1932. The first celebrations at Waitangi were held in 1934 and the newly restored Treaty House was opened. The celebrations involved the two sites of the Treaty House grounds and nearby Te Tii Marae – the same two sites used today.
1940 marked the centenary of the Treaty signing and also the beginning of Māori using the occasion to challenge the country’s race relations record. Ceremonies expanded, gained prominence and also become a platform for Māori protest, especially from the 1970s.
February 6 was officially named ‘Waitangi Day’ in 1960 by Labour Prime Minister Walter Nash, but it was only made a public holiday in 1974 by Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk who called it ‘New Zealand Day’. In 1976 (after Norman Kirk’s death in 1974) the name changed back to ‘Waitangi Day’.
Waitangi Day celebrations are noted for protest and drama. The 1990 t-shirt thrown at the Queen incident, Helen Clark reduced to tears in 1998 when her speaking rights were challenged, Don Brash with mud thrown at his face in 2004 and a sex toy thrown at Stephen Joyce in 2016…
In the Hutt celebrations have been a bit lower key.