Today is Waitangi Day, a day of commemoration at signing of the Te Tiriti O Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi at Waitangi in the far north of New Zealand. Most of the focus will be on Waitangi, but there will also be events in some other parts of the country.

New Zealand History: The Treaty in brief

he Treaty of Waitangi 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 Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori 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 land transactions with Māori, unruly behaviour by 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 Māori, 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 Māori overnight on 4 February. About 500 Māori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February.

Hobson and others stressed the Treaty’s benefits while playing down the effects of British sovereignty on rangatiratanga (chiefly authority). Reassured that their status would be strengthened, many chiefs supported the agreement. About 40 chiefs, starting with Hōne Heke, signed the Māori version of the Treaty on 6 February.

By September, another 500 had signed the copies of the document that were sent around the country. Some signed while remaining uncertain; others refused or had no chance to sign. Almost all signed the Māori text. The Colonial Office in England later declared that the Treaty applied to Māori tribes whose chiefs had not signed. British sovereignty over the country was proclaimed on 21 May 1840.

The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The document has three articles. In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects.

The Treaty in Māori was deemed to convey the meaning of the English version, but there are important differences. Most significantly, the word ‘sovereignty’ was translated as ‘kawanatanga’ (governance). Some Māori believed they were giving up government over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs.

KO WIKITORIA te Kuini o Ingarani i tana mahara atawai ki nga Rangatira me nga Hapu o Nu Tirani i tana hiahia hoki kia tohungia ki a ratou o ratou rangatiratanga me to ratou wenua, a kia mau tonu hoki te Rongo ki a ratou me te Atanoho hoki kua wakaaro ia he mea tika kia tukua mai tetahi Rangatira – hei kai wakarite ki nga Tangata maori o Nu Tirani – kia wakaaetia e nga Rangatira Maori te Kawanatanga o te Kuini ki nga wahikatoa o te wenua nei me nga motu – na te mea hoki he tokomaha ke nga tangata o tona Iwi Kua noho ki tenei wenua, a e haere mai nei.

Na ko te Kuini e hiahia ana kia wakaritea te Kawanatanga kia kaua ai nga kino e puta mai ki te tangata Maori ki te Pakeha e noho ture kore ana.

Na kua pai te Kuini kia tukua a hau a Wiremu Hopihona he Kapitana i te Roiara Nawi hei Kawana mo nga wahi katoa o Nu Tirani e tukua aianei amua atu ki te Kuini, e mea atu ana ia ki nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani me era Rangatira atu enei ture ka korerotia nei.

Ko te tuatahi

Ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa hoki ki hai i uru ki taua wakaminenga ka tuku rawa atu ki te Kuini o Ingarani ake tonu atu – te Kawanatanga katoa o o ratou wenua.

Ko te tuarua

Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangitira ki nga hapu – ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te Wenua – ki te ritenga o te utu e wakaritea ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei e te Kuini hei kai hoko mona.

Ko te tuatoru

Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetanga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini – Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.

(signed) William Hobson, Consul and Lieutenant-Governor.

Na ko matou ko nga Rangatira o te Wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani ka huihui nei ki Waitangi ko matou hoki ko nga Rangatira o Nu Tirani ka kite nei i te ritenga o enei kupu, ka tangohia ka wakaaetia katoatia e matou, koia ka tohungia ai o matou ingoa o matou tohu.

Ka meatia tenei ki Waitangi i te ono o nga ra o Pepueri i te tau kotahi mano, e waru rau e wa te kau o to tatou Ariki.

The English version guaranteed ‘undisturbed possession’ of all their ‘properties’, but the Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures, which may be intangible). Māori understanding was at odds with the understanding of those negotiating the Treaty for the Crown, and as Māori society valued the spoken word, explanations given at the time were probably as important as the wording of the document.

HER MAJESTY VICTORIA Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland regarding with Her Royal Favor the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order has deemed it necessary in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty’s Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorised to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands – Her Majesty therefore being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorise me William Hobson a Captain in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be or hereafter shall be ceded to her Majesty to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.

Article the first [Article 1]

The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.

Article the second [Article 2]

Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.

Article the third [Article 3]

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

(signed) William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor.

Now therefore We the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand being assembled in Congress at Victoria in Waitangi and We the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified. Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.

Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate. From the 1970s especially, many Māori have called for the terms of the Treaty to be honoured. Some have protested – by marching on Parliament and by occupying land. 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 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 alleged breaches of the Treaty by the Crown. More than 2000 claims have been lodged with the tribunal, and a number of major settlements have been reached.

See also a pdf version of the Treaty with explanatory footnotes by Professor Hugh Kawhar



  1. Corky

     /  February 6, 2018

    ”It is common now to refer to the intention, spirit or principles of the Treaty.”

    And partnership. Unfortunately these are subjective quantities and should have no place in law. There is no partnership in the treaty document.

  2. It’s a public holiday for me, little more. Igf I didn’t think i should do a post on the Tiriti here I would probably largely ignore the occasion.

  3. Gezza

     /  February 6, 2018

    Google today. Recognising our National Day of governorship sold to Maori in the Treaty.

  4. lurcher1948

     /  February 6, 2018

    Good one Gezza

    • Corky

       /  February 6, 2018

      As a matter of fact it is a good one. If the French flag was flying, Maori would understand the full meaning and impact of colonisation.

      Just ask Oscar Temaru from Tahiti.

      • PartisanZ

         /  February 6, 2018

        Well, going by that form of absurd relativistic justification, Maori should give up all semblance of independent thought and action, kowtow to Pakeha, roll over and die [or whatever it is you want them to do Corky?] … completely assimilate on 100% Pakeha terms … based on some blithering, absolute and cowering thankfulness they weren’t colonised by the Spanish or Portugese … Right?

        Or … we could call a *CROC* a *CROC* …

        • Corky

           /  February 6, 2018

          Calm down..maybe read a little on Oscar. That cuzzie ain’t lying down.

  5. NZ Herald front page today:

    • Corky

       /  February 6, 2018

      The protesters haven’t gone away. They are the chronically dissatisfied. They will just regroup and pop up somewhere else. I don’t know where, but it will happen.

  6. PartisanZ

     /  February 6, 2018

    Thankfully the cession of sovereignty issue has now been solved. We don’t need to debate that any more …

    As I understand it, most Maori involved in the legalities of Tiriti issues nowadays refer to “treaty relationship” as opposed to “partnership” …

    “First article
    In the English text, Māori leaders gave the Queen ‘all the rights and powers of sovereignty’ over their land. In the Māori text, Māori leaders gave the Queen ‘te kawanatanga katoa’ or the complete government over their land.

    The word ‘sovereignty’ had no direct translation in Māori. Chiefs had authority over their own areas, but there was no central ruler over the country. The translators of the English text used the Māori word ‘kawanatanga’, a transliteration of the word ‘governance’, which was in current use. Māori knew this word from the Bible and from the ‘kawana’ or governor of New South Wales. Māori believe that they kept their authority to manage their own affairs and ceded a right of governance to the Queen in return for the promise of protection.

    It is widely accepted that the use of the words ‘kawanatanga’ and ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (in Article 2) contributed to later differences of view between the Crown and Māori over how much authority the chiefs would retain and how much the governor would have. There can be little doubt that the chiefs who signed the Treaty expected to enter into some kind of partnership and power sharing in the new system.”


    • Corky

       /  February 6, 2018

      ”As I understand it, most Maori involved in the legalities of Tiriti issues nowadays refer to “treaty relationship” as opposed to “partnership”

      Did they become cognisant of their untruthful spin… or just plain pissed off being continually called out for their bs. Maori weren’t the only ones. Liberal white academics were on the same bandwagon.

      • Gezza

         /  February 6, 2018

        Calm down. You’re hyperventilating.

      • Gezza

         /  February 6, 2018

        Think about it. It makes no sense they would have surrendered complete control over their own tribal areas when they were promised continued rights to their forest fisheries & all things precious to them. The settlements to redress some of the most egregious wrongs – the confiscations & shifty dealings that amounted to illegal land thefts – these are necessary & justified.

  7. Geoffrey

     /  February 6, 2018

    Sadly disappointed by the new-speak synopsis offered for comment. The lack of any mention of appeals by several groups (if not iwi) for crown protection from the French and rampaging musket-heavy tribes bent on conquest reduces the piece to yet another rewrite to obscure the facts.