Waitangi commemorations set to be held virtually in 2022 due to COVID-19

Newshub can reveal Waitangi commemorations as we know them could be cancelled next year given the precarious COVID-19 situation in Northland. 

Organisers met on Friday to come up with a plan that puts safety first. It could mean no public gatherings and all commemorations held on Zoom for the first time in our nation's history. 

The COVID-19 risk is putting at risk commemorations at our most historic site and next year could be a Waitangi like we've never seen before. The unity, the politicians, the protests, the festivities, stalls - it's not easily captured on Zoom, but it could come to that. 

"I hope the trust board will not support or allow that gathering to happen because it will put us at very, very high risk," says former Māori Affairs Minister and Labour MP Dover Samuels.

The Waitangi Trust Board did meet on Friday, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, which would see a cancellation of all public events.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newshub Nation it's not up to her. 

"Well look, these decisions are for the individual trust. The issue is at the moment of course, that people are trying to look into the future and predict where vaccination rates will be."

Northland has the country's second lowest vaccination rate, meaning scenes like throngs queueing for a Prime Ministerial sausage are simply too risky right now. Northland needs help and organisers need clarity.

"No one understands that situation more than us," Ardern says. "We are in constant contact with those running events, those running festivals. We know the need for certainty."

But during the interview with Newshub Nation, she had none to offer.

"Oh look, that's a decision ultimately for the organisers," Ardern said, when asked what guidance she would recommend. 

Three years ago, the Prime Minister's wero at Waitangi - her challenge - was this: "Hold us to account. Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here and only you can tell me when I have done that."

Although the events may get cancelled, that accountability will not.

"Kindness is running out, the reality is setting in," says Samuels. 

This year was Samuels' 60th Waitangi.

"People are feeling disenfranchised, they feel that they have no place in the waka, they feel that they've been left behind," he says. 

No final decision has been made about Waitangi. The waka has not yet left the shore.