After days of speculation, New Zealand has finally made its position clear on the current controversy over the decision of Premier Sir Toke Talagi to discontinue a 43-year tradition of raising the NZ flag at the island’s Constitution Celebrations. At the Avatele Village Show Day on Saturday, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Niue Kirk Yates said that the decision is that for Niue to make. He added that it is Niue’s day and it is up to Niue to decide how it wants to commemorate the day.
In the circumstances, it was the only decision that New Zealand could have made. To do otherwise would be to invite a stampede from the anti-colonial brigade. There are already signs of that in the reactions on social media, but there is also a raft of support for maintaining the tradition.
To understand why the founders of the island’s constitution adopted the practice of allowing NZ participation in the formal part of the Celebrations we need to travel back in time. In the early stages of going it alone, even though the control of the island’s affairs was firmly in the hands of its elected leaders, the imprint of NZ’s footprint remain etched on Niue soil; after 70 years of close association, it could hardly be otherwise. A significant part of the Niue Public Service was populated by NZ teachers, NZ health workers, NZ senior executives. A whole generation of Niueans have grown up therefore in the shade of a constitutional arrangement that was arrived at amicably after a process of consultation, village by village. Over time certain traditions have become embedded in the celebrations reflecting the relationship.
Against this background it is clear why there is so much reaction to the proposal by the Premier; this is an emotional issue for those who were there from the beginning. For them it is simple; how dare you unilaterally change the tradition of Misi Leki, Dr Enetama, Frank Lui, Young Vivian, Simose Sipeli, Talaiti, Manamana et al. If it was good enough for these old-timers to consult the villages….
There has been no real discussion with the people although the issue was the subject of a short debate in the last sitting of the Assembly. It could be argued that that was all that was necessary. In addition, the Premier said that he had warned some two years previous that he was going to exclude NZ from the formal ceremony. But how many people would have remembered?
During the debate in the Assembly, Premier Talagi said that the time has come to make some changes. It was his view that the inclusion of the former administrator was no longer appropriate in a ceremony to commemorate a time when the control of Niue was handed back to the descendants of the original settlers. He is probably right, but this is one time where he needed the direct input of the people.