Treaty Of Waitangi: New Zealand's Founding Document



The Treaty of Waitangi External link is New Zealand's founding document. It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. This day is now a public holiday in New Zealand. The Treaty is an agreement, in Maori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Maori rangatira (chiefs).

Growing numbers of British migrants arrived in New Zealand in the late 1830s, and there were plans for extensive settlement. Around this time there were large-scale transactions with Maori for land, unruly behaviour from some settlers and signs that the French were interested in annexing New Zealand. The British government was initially unwilling to act, but it eventually realised that annexing the country could protect Maori, regulate British subjects and secure commercial interests.

Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson had the task of securing British sovereignty over New Zealand. He relied on the advice and support of, among others, James Busby, the British Resident in New Zealand. The Treaty was prepared in just a few days. Missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward translated the English draft into Maori overnight on 4 February. About 500 Maori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February.
Hone Heke: Indigenous Maori Signer of Treaty of Waitangihoneheke1845newzealand.jpg
The Signing of the Treaty

Hobson and others stressed the Treaty's benefits while playing down the effects of British sovereignty on rangatiratanga (chieftainship or authority). Reassured that their status and authority would be strengthened, many chiefs supported the agreement. About 40 chiefs, starting with Hone Heke, signed the Maori version of the Treaty on 6 February. By September that year, another 500 had signed copies of the document that went around the country. Some signed while remaining uncertain; others refused or had no chance to sign. Almost all signed the Maori text. The Colonial Office in England later declared that the Treaty applied to Maori tribes that had not signed. Sovereignty was proclaimed over the country on 21 May 1840.

The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Maori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The Treaty has three articles. In the English version, these are that Maori ceded the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Maori gave the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wished to sell, and, in return, they were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and that Maori would have the rights and privileges of British subjects.

Maori Version Of The Treaty

The Treaty in Maori was deemed to convey the meaning of the English version, but there are important differences. Most significantly, in the Maori version the word 'sovereignty' was translated as 'kawanatanga' (governance). Some Maori believed they gave up the government over their lands but retained the right to manage their own affairs. The English version guaranteed 'undisturbed possession' of all their 'properties', but the Maori version guaranteed 'tino rangatiratanga' (full authority) over 'taonga' (treasures, not necessarily those that are tangible). Maori understanding was at odds with the understanding of those negotiating the Treaty for the Crown, and as Maori society valued the spoken word, explanations at the time were probably as important as the document.

Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate. From the 1970s especially, many Maori have called for the terms of the Treaty to be honoured. Some have protested – in marches on Parliament and by land occupation. There have been studies of the Treaty and a growing awareness of its meaning in modern New Zealand.

It is common now to refer to the intention, spirit or principles of the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is not considered part of New Zealand domestic law, except where its principles are referred to in several Acts of Parliament. The exclusive right to determine the meaning of the Treaty rests with the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry created in 1975 to investigate the Crown's alleged breaches of the Treaty. More than 1000 claims have been lodged with the tribunal, and a number have been settled.

Read more about the background, making of, or timeline of the Treaty of Waitangi here External link.



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