Treaty of Waitangi

Historical Background

New Zealand is a “young” country as far as European culture is concerned. The first European to visit here was the Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642. It was not until 127 years later, that Captain Cook in the Endeavour arrived in what is now Poverty Bay. Cook’s “discovery” was followed by the gradual settling of British and American seal fur traders and whalers along the coasts. By 1830 the settlement of Kororareka (now Russell), was a well-established trading and whaling port. Sometimes a dozen or more ships might be at anchor, with several hundred men ashore. It was the “Hell hole of the South Pacific”. There were regular tensions between the visitors and the Mãori, often around the acquisition of land. Mãori wanted access to the benefits of trade, but also wanted the Crown to control its lawless citizens. Trade was growing and fear that the French might colonise here led the British Government to abandon its non-colonisation policy and to plan for annexation.

The process had been going on since 1834, when the British resident James Busby gathered 25 Mãori chiefs at Waitangi to form the United Tribes of Aotearoa – an attempt to develop a pan-Mãori Government for self-determination and protection. Busby saw this as a way of protecting New Zealand-made British ships flying a Mãori flag thus protecting British trade interests. Six years later, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson was given the task of establishing a Treaty with Mãori. In February 1840, also at Waitangi, Hobson and Busby, wrote a draft Treaty for tribal chiefs to sign. The Treaty was written very quickly. A Mãori draft was prepared by the missionary Henry Williams and his son on 4th February.

The meaning of the English and Mãori documents is not identical. Williams translated “Sovereignty” into Mãori as “Kawanatanga” (Kawana being a transliteration of the English word “Governor”) - meaning that Mãori would retain their sovereignty and be subject only to an administrative governorship. A more accurate (and truthful) translation would have been Rangatiratanga, (complete authority or chieftainship) which they all knew the chiefs would never agree to sign away. On the basis of the Mãori translation, the chiefs (and all subsequent generations) saw the Treaty not as a relinquishment of authority, but as a partnership. All historical accounts agree that Hobson, Busby and Williams played down the negative implications of the Treaty to the chiefs, and given the fluency of both Williams and Busby in the Mãori language, the differences between the two documents raises questions about their veracity. 500 Mãori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February. Following the initial signing (by 40 chiefs) copies were taken around the country to collect more signatures. Only 500 out of the 1500 sub-tribes signed the Treaty, and some influential chiefs refused to sign. The original ambiguity in the meaning of the Treaty was to have lasting repercussions for Mãori-Pakeha relations over the next 150 years.

Within 20 years of the signing of the Treaty the population demographics of New Zealand changed dramatically. The settler population increased from 2000 to almost 100,000. Four years later it had almost doubled again, creating an enormous pressure for land acquisitions. At the same time, the Mãori population decreased (due to introduced diseases) from 85,000 to less than 50% of the total population by 1860. Conflicts were exacerbated by the dubious land dealings of the New Zealand Company (and its creator, the convicted felon Edward Gibbon Wakefield) who offered land to unsuspecting emigrants. The land was often acquired by Wakefield under questionable circumstances causing ongoing trouble between settlers and Mãori owners.

Using the (new) legal system the Government in 1852 passed The Constitution Act allowing freehold landowners to vote and enter Parliament. Mãori land owners were exempted because their land was owned communally, and they were thus excluded from decision-making. In this way, the Government paved the way for successive legislation which would facilitate the (legal) acquisition of further Mãori land. By 1860 the tensions between Mãori and the settler government boiled over. Governor Gore-Browne authorised the occupation of the Waitara Block in Northern Taranaki that had been “purchased” without the consent of the Te Ati Awa paramount chief Wiremu Kingi. When he resisted troop incursions, war erupted and Kingi was supported by the Waikato tribes. A year later, Governor Grey returned to office and extended the war, building the Great South Road from Auckland to move troops and artillery into the Waikato to acquire land there for the burgeoning population.
The war by Grey was accompanied by legal strategies to strip Mãori of their land. In 1862, the Government enacted the Native Lands Act – designed to break up the communal ownership of Mãori land. This was supplemented in 1863 by the Suppression of Rebellion Act. Based word-for-word on the Irish Act of 1799, (designed to put down the Irish rebellion to British rule) it suspended the right to trial before imprisonment, established military courts and promised to punish “certain aboriginal (Mãori) tribes of the colony”. It was accompanied in short measure by the New Zealand Settlement Act which allowed the confiscation of lands where any “considerable number” of natives were believed to be “in rebellion”. This meant that any Mãori resisting the incursion of European settlers (supported by the military) were deemed to be “rebels” and their land was forfeit.

Through this Act more than three million acres of Mãori land were confiscated. The main financial beneficiaries of these confiscations were Frederick Whitaker (Attorney General) and Thomas Russell (Minister of War) - the very people who had pushed for the legislation. They were joint owners of the Bank of New Zealand (which held the government account) and of the firm of Whitaker and Russell, the biggest land agency in the colony.

By these means, and through a series of successive Parliamentary Acts, Mãori land ownership in New Zealand declined from 80% of the North Island in 1860 to 4% a century later. By 1865 the New Zealand Company and the Crown had together acquired 99% of the South Island. Much of the remaining Mãori land was in marginal and unproductive (and unsustainable) areas, and the loss of their productive capacity has had an inevitable impact upon the economy and well-being of the Mãori community down to the present, creating the conditions of economic dependency for which Mãori are often criticised.

Treaty Settlements

Over the succeeding years the Treaty of Waitangi was virtually ignored by successive Governments, although Mãori continued to claim its importance as the founding document of the Nation, protesting the bad faith of their Treaty partner, and pointing out ongoing violations of the agreement – specifically the agreement to protect Mãori land and culture. Throughout the early part of the 20th Century Mãori had been drawn into the cities looking for employment and had become involved in the Labour Movement which was pushing for worker’s rights. This relationship was formally acknowledged though a 1936 accord between the highly influential Ratana Church and the Labour Party. The Church’s leader Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana pledged to Labour leader Michael Joseph Savage to support Labour in Parliament in return for Labour’s committment to redress Treaty grievances and to entrench the Treaty in Legislation. At the 1936 meeting Ratana presented Savage with four symbolic gifts. Three huia feathers representing Mãori protruded from a potato, which symbolised the land taken from Mãori, leaving them unable to grow the staple crop. A pounamu hei tiki represented Mãori mana, which had also been lost. A broken gold watch handed down to Ratana by his grandfather represented the broken promises of the Crown. A pin with a star and crescent moon was the symbol of the Ratana church, Tahu o te Maramatanga. These gifts were buried with Savage at his State funeral in 1940.

The accord brought little change for Mãori, and by the 1970s protests became more active and vocal, culminating in the dramatic Hikoi or Land March of 1975 when Whina Cooper (then in her 80s) led an epic protest from her home in the Hokianga to Parliament 640 kilometres away to protest Móari land loss and to press demands for the recognition of Treaty Rights. This led to the Labour Government of Norman Kirk introducing the Treaty of Waitangi Act (1975) which established the Waitangi Tribunal. The Act had very limited scope. It allowed the Tribunal to only investigate those violations of the Treaty occuring since 1975, and to make non-binding recommendations to the Crown. One of the consequences of the Act was to raise Mãori expectations and increase demands for redress. The subsequent failure of the Tribunal to deliver results led to further protests, at Bastion Point in Auckland (1977-8) where Ngãti Whatua occupied its remaining land (which the government was proposing to acquire and sell on for development) and at the Raglan golf course (which the war-time Government had taken for a military airfield and failed to return to its Mãori owners when no longer needed). These and other protests (including the 1981 Anti-Springbok rugby tour) led the new (1984) Labour Government of David Lange to introduce the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act (1985), increasing the Tribunal membership and allowing it to hear claims going back to the signing of the Treaty in 1840.

The Act brought a flood of Treaty Claims, which has seen a number settlements. Tainui, Ngãti Whatua, Ngai Tahu, Ngãti Awa and others have all reached settlements. These always contain an unreserved apology from the Crown for past injustices as well as the return of some land and a variable financial redress. They are “full and final” although they usually contain a “top-up” clause allowing earlier settlements to be adjusted upwards in the light of later ones. Settlement amounts (including land) are less than .1 of 1% of the value of land lost. Total settlements to date amount to about 700 million dollars, the amount acquired from the sale of one state asset – the telephones – to private interests in the 1980s. All of the Tribunal claims are for land and resources owned by the Crown (ie. not privately owned), but in an era of State asset sales and “free market” ideologies there is fierce competition for these resources from business interests.

A lack of public education about New Zealand history and the settlement process has led many to question the “hand outs” to Mãori and to criticise the “Grievance Industry” or the “Treaty Gravy Train”. As Pakeha pressure has mounted the Crown has closed the Treaty Claim process. In December 2006, it legislated to make 1 September 2008 the deadline for all new claims. Also, in September 1997, New Zealand was only one of four nations (out of 147) to vote against the rather mild United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Not surprisingly, the others were nations that also have a long history of colonisation and an overwhelming non-indigenous majority – the United States, Canada and Australia.