Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty Signed

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840, between the British Crown and Maori. About forty chiefs signed at Waitangi. Copies of the Treaty document were thereafter taken around New Zealand for further Maori signatures.

About 500 Maori signed various copies at various times. However, significant chiefs and groups of Maori chose not to sign, especially Te Whero Whero of Waikato, who would later become the first Maori King in 1858.

For Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi incorporated a number of undertakings that were not fulfilled by the Crown. For example, Maori people were not included when an early Executive Council to govern New Zealand was established by Governor Hobson. Maori perceived a gradual but definite imposition of British law and institutions at the expense of traditional Maori lore and sanctions.

Waihi Rd Cemetery, Hawera, burial place of Armed Constabulary killed during early years of Titokowaru's war, 1867-1869.

'Amalgamating Maori'

An overall policy of ‘amalgamating’ Maori into new settler institutions pervaded all dealings between Crown and Maori. As one historian has argued, New Zealand was no longer to be a place belonging to Maori, with space reserved for Pakeha. New Zealand was to be a place for Pakeha, and room now had to be found for Maori. This was contrary to what Maori had thought the Treaty was all about; and they said so.

Plus, around Waitangi and Kororareka, Nga Puhi experienced economic losses following the Crown’s assuming of responsibility for collecting shipping dues and taxes. Nga Puhi also felt slighted by the Crown's decision to move the capital of New Zealand from Kororareka to Auckland.

For these and other reasons, Hone Heke began to agitate around Kororareka in the early 1840s. He instigated the felling of the Maiki Hill flagpole, and the British flag, four times. The fourth felling was followed by an attack on Kororareka itself. The town was destroyed and a number of settlers were killed, thus starting the northern war.

The Treaty of Waitangi, and its believed promises, were much cited by Maori, as the wars progressed. Many Maori believed that the Crown and settlers were acting in a manner contrary to the Treaty’s undertakings in pursuing war against them.

For its part, the Crown believed Maori to have been in rebellion, against the Crown’s sole authority to govern, an authority conferred upon it (it argued) by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Further reading - Peter Adams, Fatal Necessity: British Intervention in New Zealand 1830-1847, Auckland, 1977; Patricia Burns, Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company, Wellington, 1989; Claudia Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, Auckland, Auckland, 1987; Alan Ward, A Show of Justice. Racial 'Amalgamation' in Nineteenth Century New Zealand, Auckland, 1973, reprinted Auckland, 1995.

Treaty debate in New Zealand

In recent years, much comment has been made in New Zealand about Treaty of Waitangi issues. The debate is a complex one. I recently had a short piece published in the New Zealand Herald (2 September 2003) in which I raised some issues relating to the language of Treaty politics in New Zealand. My point was that some of the language is not conducive to solving our complex Treaty 'problems' . The article is reproduced below.

'Truth reached only by rational debate'


Michael Cullen describes Marlborough Mayor Tom Harrison as a "racist". It's a strong word. Mr Harrison has demanded an apology.

Dr Cullen's use of the word has provoked a furious response. Many New Zealanders consider Mr Harrison's statements about Maori to be fair enough. Others, such as Dr Cullen, are appalled that elected officials can get away with such "irresponsible and racist" comments.

And what were the offending comments? Mr Harrison says there should be one law for all New Zealanders. All New Zealanders should have the same rights. Those in Parliament seeking to address Maori concerns are said to be "calling for separatism".

He says the Government is enshrining privilege for Maori. Maori indigenous rights are said to "border on apartheid".

The context for these comments was the foreshore and seabed debate, a controversy that, even when considered rationally, defies easy answers. The answers are there, but comments like this do not help.

Yet statements such as these are fairly typical these days. The race relations debate is dominated by accusations of Maori seeking privilege and special rights.

Politicians are especially responsible, showing little regard for the accuracy of their language. Maori issues are still a sensitive area. Complex issues are so easily reduced to slogans.

The Deputy Prime Minister may well be offended by Mr Harrison's statements. Many Maori were, and they have said so. But are comments such as these "racist"?

It is important to revisit this because language can conceal as much as it reveals. It makes sense to get to the truth of issues, and words can obstruct understanding. That sometimes means we should expose language being used publicly as flawed or even inaccurate, and, in the end, potentially dangerous.

For example, what of the view that there should be "one law for all New Zealanders"? This is a recurring and compelling catchphrase, much heard in Parliament, on talkback radio and in letters columns. It attracts and excites many, but it ignores our history.

Yes, many laws have been made especially for Maori. The 1862 Native Lands Act is an example. It made lawful the Crown's extinguishing of Maori title in their land. A special court was set up to impose English title upon all Maori land. As a result, millions of hectares were lost in wrongful alienations.

The 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act was also passed especially for Maori. It confiscated 2 million hectares of Maori land because Maori raised arms in their own defence.

The 1864 Public Works Act took Maori land without compensation for roads and railways; it was still in force to the 1960s.

And so it goes on. In the 1970s, the Waitangi Action Committee counted at least 57 acts passed during the 19th century that discriminated against Maori. The Treaty of Waitangi had promised that Maori would be treated as equal citizens. So why weren't Maori treated as equals?

There should always have been one law for all New Zealanders. But as all Maori know, there never was.

So is it racist to say there should be one law for everyone, now that Maori losses are almost absolute? Where the question now is one of compensation?

It's hard to say. But it certainly is not right.

Looking down on Waitara, North Taranaki, from Puketakauere Pa, scene of June 1860 battle where Maori inflicted heavy casualties upon the British Army.

It is also argued that "all New Zealanders should have the same rights". The National Party is running on the slogan "one standard of citizenship for all". This encourages the widespread belief that Maori enjoy a standard of citizenship that is above that of others. How true is this?

Maori comprise about 15 per cent of the population. About 82 per cent of Maori earn less than the average wage. By some accounts, about the same number occupy substandard housing, with little chance of home ownership.

The Maori prison population is inordinately high. And, at the other end of the scale, Maori postgraduates are in decline, relative to mainstream rates of achievement.

One does not need to recite endless figures showing negative Maori achievement rates to make the case that Maori hardly occupy a favoured standard of citizenship. So why is it so often asserted? Where does the perception come from?

Again, it is a question of compensation. There would seem to be a growing intolerance among New Zealanders for putting right the wrongs of the 19th century, when Maori were stripped of their economic base and their capacity to generate wealth to support their own.

In recent years, the Crown has acknowledged its responsibility, and is prepared to talk compensation dollars. That Maori should be so compensated, though, rankles among some New Zealanders who still cling to 19th-century notions of Maori subservience.

Maori, they say, are not entitled to compensation, labelled as "special privileges". Maori should instead be subjected to a "common standard of citizenship". Compensating Maori is a tough issue - how much can you afford to give back - but it's an issue the country cannot avoid, despite the disingenuous language that smothers the issues.

Nor can it avoid providing legislation to undo the wrongs. But those in Parliament who work to this end are said to be "calling for separatism".

Treaty negotiations ministers, for example, are treated roughly by opponents of the treaty process. Their efforts to compensate Maori for loss are derided. But do their efforts amount to installing "Maori separatism"?

Of course not. As everyone knows, the term "separatism" has its origins in apartheid South Africa. It describes a system developed by a white minority that sought to maintain its own position through legislation, and the violent use of a police state.

Majority non-whites were oppressed, jailed, murdered or went missing. Freedoms were severely curtailed, movement was restricted, peoples were harassed. No provision was made for substantive coloured advancement.

As Trevor Richards has written, the apartheid system was the "antithesis of all we in New Zealand ever stood for". It ultimately left an indelible mark upon the consciousness of all New Zealanders.

To suggest that such a system is being installed here does a great disservice to those who seek fairness in a system that seeks to compensate Maori for the widespread losses of the 19th century.

In the end, words such as "separatism" and "apartheid" are used to draw negative attention to complex issues of Maori redress. Such terms are not used to draw historical analogies between New Zealand and Africa because such analogies are clearly unsustainable. Rather, they are used to add shock value to criticisms of Maori that cannot otherwise be focused or even argued.

The more extreme the language, the stronger the case against Maori; or so the thinking goes. In the process, true and fair meanings are subverted and hopes for fairness and reconciliation flounder.

Is such language "racist"? Its intention is undoubtedly to focus negative attention upon the Maori case for redress. Maori should be compensated for wrongs. That complex process can do without a language that carries such a sinister weight.

It is a language that moves us further away from, not closer to, settling our troubled history.