The Treaty of Waitangi

On 6 February 1840 the British Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi with a number of Māori chiefs at a Bay of Islands settlement called Waitangi.

On 6 February 1840 the British Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi with a number of Māori chiefs at a Bay of Islands settlement called Waitangi.

Māori have been in New Zealand since approximately 1350 AD, based on tracing the navigational steps of their ancestor, Kupe, from his homeland of Hawaiiki.

Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, the first European discoverer, arrived in 1642 and named the islands New Zealand. In 1769 Captain James Cook stayed in New Zealand for seven months, recording his observations of the Māori and claiming it as a British colony.

Increased European settlement caused problems. In 1833 the British Government appointed James Busby to act on its behalf and set up residency in Waitangi. During Busby’s six-year tenure, his role was largely one of mediator and negotiator between the British and Māori. He had no power of arrest because he was appointed as a civilian and had little influence over the misconduct of the settlers.

By the late 1830s the law-abiding settlers, traders and missionaries had become concerned about the land purchases that were taking place around the country and petitioned the British head of state for more effective governance in New Zealand.

Seeking to protect their trade and economic interests, the British relented and sent Lieutenant Governor William Hobson to New Zealand with instructions to colonise the country. He arrived in January 1840.

Because Māori rights had been recognised in the 1835 Declaration of Independence, declaring Māori sovereignty and that the British would protect the country’s independence, no claim could be made on New Zealand without Māori agreement.

The signing of the Treaty

On 6 February 1840 the British Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi with a number of Māori chiefs at a Bay of Islands settlement called Waitangi.

The Treaty was written in both Māori and English and handed over governorship of New Zealand to the British. It enabled the peaceful purchase of land for settlement and gave the British authority to establish rule in the country. In return the British were to guarantee and actively protect Māori tribal authority over their possessions.

The relevance of the Treaty today

The Treaty has proved to be an enduring document. In 1988 when the Labour Government tried to sell off state-owned assets, the New Zealand Māori Council contested its right to do so in the courts.

The Māori Council’s actions slowed down the government’s sale programme and forced it to enter into negotiations with Māori. Its argument was based on the principle that Māori ceded governorship to the Crown or British in 1840 when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but not ownership of assets such as forestry. Forestry was part of the package of assets the government wanted to include in the sale programme.

Over the years there have been many settlements with Māori tribal groups based on the Treaty that have forced governments to adopt a more consultative approach when developing new policy and regulations. Treaty considerations are now embedded in many official policies.

How does the Treaty impact upon visitors to Aotearoa?

Most laws and policies have been developed, arguably, within the framework of the Treaty.

Māori have long respected and welcomed overseas visitors to New Zealand. As tangata whenua or the people of the land, Māori command certain rights that are a consequence of the Treaty and recognise their status as the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

This unique relationship has birthed a nation slowly maturing to a point where a number of races and cultures exist freely, but where Māori retain a strong identity as the indigenous people.

Visiting Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is New Zealand's most important historic site and a popular visitor attraction on the shores of the beautiful Bay of Islands. Several heritage experiences include a Māori cultural show in a carved Māori meeting house, and the contemporary Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi, which is dedicated to telling the story of the Treaty of Waitangi. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the Treaty House - the first British residency in New Zealand and the family home of James and Agnes Busby.