The Treaty of Waitangi and its Turbulent Past

By Liza Fisher, Sales Representative for Gale New Zealand

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. Signed in Waitangi, New Zealand on 6 February 1840 by Maori chiefs and Lieutenant-Governor Hobson (on behalf of the British government), its purpose was to create unity between the Maori and British Crown. The Treaty has thus been likened to New Zealand’s version of the Magna Carta.

Lloyd, A. L. “The Story of New Zealand 1840-1940.” Picture Post, 10 Feb. 1940, p. 28-29+. Picture Post Historical Archive, Accessed 22 Jan. 2017

It was first drafted in English, and then translated into Maori by missionary Henry Williams. The majority of Maori chiefs signed the Maori version, meaning the two parties had different understandings and expectations of the Treaty right from its inception. Maori chiefs, for example, rightfully believed they still had ‘te tino rangtiratanga’ (chieftainship) over their lands, villages and ‘taonga katoa’ (all treasured things).

Gale Primary Sources provides many fascinating sources, such as monographs, articles, maps and images, on New Zealand’s colonisation and turbulent history.

Ward, John. Information relative to New Zealand: compiled for the use of colonists- 4th ed. 4th ed., (p.16/183) J.W. Parker, 1841. The Making of the Modern World, Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.

Palin, T. W. “CO 700/NewZealand45: Sketch Map of the North Island of New Zealand. Shewing Approximately the Loyal and Rebel Districts from the Commencement of the Taranaki War to May 1869. Also the Proportion of Natives in Each District Who Have Joined in the Rebellion. Drawn by T. W. Palin, Defence Office, Wellington. 1 Inch to about 18 Miles.” The National Archives: Selected Maps Representing the Long 19th Century, Primary Source Media, [1869]. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.
Maps like the one above taken from Nineteenth Century Collections Online illustrate the various conflicts over land between the Maori and British colonial forces. These conflicts took place in the 1840’s and 1860’s and are known as the New Zealand wars.

The twentieth century brought a new wave of unrest and political protest in New Zealand, related to race relations and breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. As Bateman says in the Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia (available in Gale Virtual Reference Library) the ‘Treaty of Waitangi, for many years regarded as a symbol of enlightened, humane and generous respect for the rights of an indigenous population by a colonising government, has been increasingly condemned in recent years as a ‘fraud’ by a growing number of Maori and Pakeha”.[1]

“Maori in Fear of Betrayal over Colonial Treaty Tangle.” Financial Times, 17 Sept. 2005, p. 6. The Financial Times Historical Archive, 1888-2010, Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.

As a result, the Waitangi Tribunal was created in 1985: a permanent commission that makes recommendations on claims brought by the Maori relating to Crown actions which breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.

Marks, Kathy, Asia-Pacific Correspondent. “A £160m apology to the Maoris for shameful history of injustice.” Independent, 26 June 2008, p. 21. The Independent Digital Archive, Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.

There is now a national holiday in New Zealand on 6 February to mark this significant date in our history, now called ‘Waitangi Day’. For most ‘Kiwis’ it is just a public holiday, but for many others it is a reminder of the injustice that took place and is often marked by protests and unrest – particularly at Waitangi. So although progress has been made by past and present governments, the debate surrounding the commemoration of Waitangi day will continue. I expect 6 February 2017 to be no different.

[1] “Treaty of Waitangi.” Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia, 6th ed., David Bateman, 2005, pp. 670-672. Gale Virtual Reference Library Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.

About the Author

Liza Fisher, Sales Representative for Gale New Zealand