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OPINION : Independence Is Within Our Reach

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OPINION: Niue flying its own flag on its special day isn’t a bad thing.

The decision not to raise the NZ flag on our national day is a necessary one. I always thought, among other things, that we’d eventually stop feeling the need to raise the NZ flag at our state occasion(s), it was just a matter of time.

So why all the fuss over it happening now? I think the answer can be narrowed down to two things – the way Sir Toke Talagi and his government handled the decision, and fear.

For those who don’t follow the winds of current affairs out of the motherland, or tune in to coconut wireless, I’ll try and offer an abridged synopsis.

Once a protectorate of NZ, Niue became a self-governing state in free association with the land of the long white cloud in 1974. On our national day, every year since then, we have always raised the Niue & NZ flags together, belted out both anthems, and heard from the two thrones. That is every year except this year, when the Premier and Government of Niue announced that NZ would no longer share prime time during our ‘Constitution Celebrations’ on the island.

The result? From the motherland, as far as I’ve heard, there seems to be a mixed bag of emotions. But from communities outside of Niue, Sir Toke seems to have awoken the guard dogs. They bark the loudest.

Despite the obvious constitutional arrangements that link us, our national day should be about us. If the intention or motivation is political isolation or strategy however – I know we won’t get further than the front door. It must be treated with the reverence it deserves as a day to celebrate our uniqueness and our place in the world as Niue people. Part of doing this should be having the stage to ourselves for a change.

Has it been a shared journey? Definitely. Is this the beginning of positive change? My crystal ball offers no revelations, but I hope so. Do we owe NZ a heck of a lot? Undoubtedly. I can’t imagine how different life would be, had it not been for the opportunities NZ has, and still does, offer us.

Lyron Alofaifo Lino. Pic – Holiday Kauie.

And here is where I think Sir Toke and his government missed the mark. Even if the changes so far are merely cosmetic, it needed again to be a collective discussion and decision to embark on a ship turned the other way. Larsen is long gone, but so also is Hayes.

We know deviations from accepted norms come with challenges, and in Niue’s case, there is rarely anyone quick enough to run one past a people with eyes and ears everywhere. But change coupled with a lack of communication or information also brings out elements of fear in people.

For many opponents, the move downplayed by supporters is actually a mammoth shift. After 43 years of the same, you can understand why they feel this way. But many times over I have found, that if you dig deep enough, you actually uncover some consensus, but people just want the comfort of being heard.

Fear of change and fear of the unknown is often one in the same, and I think this is true for our current situation. But you and I also know that fighting the winds of change and fretting over the unknown can really be futile. The trick then is in navigating through the
next steps wisely.

What do I think should be next? Steps that edge us closer to a position of independence. As cushy as it is, I don’t actually believe self government in free association with NZ is meant to be our final destination. Ditching NZ entirely isn’t an option, in fact building on the existing relationship needs to continue into the future, but we need to start thinking critically about our status and where we’re headed.

Our ‘Flag Raising’ Day is as good an opportunity and platform as any to motivate brain cells, because I feel like we’ve spent our four decades in the wilderness, and still we aren’t ready to take up our land of promise. We got comfortable and set up shop on what I believe was a stepping stone, and we’ve stayed so long that the winds of sentiment that once blew in our favour will soon begin to change. That’s if our latest, callous and unreprimanded re-designation as a species isn’t a sure sign that its already begun.

I’m sure we all know we’re miles away from a state of independence, so it isn’t time yet to lament the possible loss of NZ citizenship. Heck, the tree from which we will fashion a table to meet with NZ about full independence is barely a shrub still.

But we must continue to grow and develop with the goal of ‘holding our own’ in various fields, until ultimately we’re doing it in general.

Despite our fears and the lack of prior discourse, I believe this controversial move, albeit cosmetic, has come in due time. I have donned my shades of optimism to welcome a move towards unaided prominence on our special day and more, and I know the sound steward will welcome this developmental step forward too.

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