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Prime Minister John Key used his annual address at Waitangi to make the case for the day to keep its edge, warts and all, but warned there was a danger extremists would destroy the public goodwill that was critical for Treaty settlements to be resolved.
Mr Key said previous governments and others had tried to create a sense of ''national participation'' on the day.
''It would be good to see, but I'm not sure that we can or should try to force it. We are not, by nature, a nation of flag-wavers.''
Labour leader David Shearer has used the past two Waitangi Days to call for the day to be celebrated in a more positive way, using Australia Day as an example.
However, there was no other day on which the weight of history was felt quite so heavily, Mr Key said.
''It is marked across an emotional spectrum that ranges from great passion among some of those gathered here, to indifference from those Kiwis whose sole interest in the day is encompassed by the weather forecast.''
The day was more forward-looking than in the past, partly because of the Treaty settlements process, which had given iwi the resources needed to run their own affairs, create jobs and care for their people, he said.
However, those settlements largely relied on public goodwill and acknowledgement the grievances were genuine, he said.
There was a risk the actions of ''permanently aggrieved'' protesters, including those at Waitangi, would endanger the public consensus there was over the issue of settling legitimate grievances.
''Public goodwill should not be taken for granted. It needs to be treated with respect. It is short-sighted and counterproductive of activists to use tactics and language which have the effect of eroding public support for initiatives aimed at turning around the very situation that the activists are complaining about.''
Mr Key also talked about economic development and improving the educational achievement of Maori children.
He urged the Far North iwi to resolve their differences to allow them to settle, saying that would add a critical injection of funds to an area in which unemployment was a big issue.
The Maori Party's willingness to work with National had also helped build the relationship between iwi and the Government, he said.