Why are we still confused by the Treaty of Waitangi?

At risk of being deafened by groans, let me say that much confusion still exists in the minds of New Zealanders over the content and relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty).  Why are we still confused?

The short answer is that the Treaty has been hijacked and shoe-horned into places where it was not designed to go.  Concepts such as “taonga” (translated treasure, including water rights and airwaves) are recent additions.  The Treaty underpins the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal that was accused of corruption by Dr John Robinson, “The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy – A Treaty Industry Overview.’ He makes the astonishing revelation that as a Waitangi Tribunal researcher he had to falsify evidence to get paid.” Ngapuhi leader David Rankin also fired a broadside at the Waitangi Tribunal, which he accused of being a bully, inventing history and delivering New Zealand into apartheid.”

We must circumvent the insidious creep into NZ statutes and law of this distorted Treaty.  An ominous statement is found on the Justice Department website:

At the moment, Treaty rights can only be enforced in a court of law when a statute or an Act explicitly refers to the Treaty.

Let’s keep it that way, but is this statement signalling a change in the wind?

The Treaty is very simple, the founding document for the establishment of New Zealand as a British colony and protectorate of the Queen of England.  That’s it.  No further use for it except for nefarious purposes.

The purpose of the Treaty was to recognize and uphold existing Maori and European ownership of land and property; address the lawlessness prevalent at the time, and protect Maori from being exploited in the sale of their land.  Put simply, the Treaty was to establish law and order where there was none.

Various drafts in English and the signed Maori versions (also with variations)  are paraphrased below, with main points highlighted. You don’t have to be a Treaty expert or historian to understand the original document.  It was simply written for good reason.  Clarity of its intent is easily achieved if you don’t have an axe to grind, r a financial advantage to be grasped by misconstruing it, as others have.


Queen Victoria recognizes Maori Chiefs and tribes and the people of NZ’s ownership of their land which will be maintained with peace and order because many of her people have already emigrated to NZ and many more are expected to come.

Victoria will establish a NZ Government to put an end to the lawlessness prevalent among both Maori and European.  To this end Victoria appoints William Hobson as her representative and Governor of NZ.

The First Article

Maori give up entire governance of their property to the Queen of England.

The Second Article

The Queen of England gives to the Chiefs, tribes and all the people of NZ possession of their lands, dwellings and property.  

The Chiefs give the Queen and her representative the exclusive right to purchase their land at a price that is mutually agreeable.

The Third Article

The Queen will protect Maori and give them the same rights and privileges as British citizens.

Signed by the Chiefs on 6 February 1840.

The intent of the Treaty seems clear, so why the ongoing dissent?

Immediately after the Treaty took effect, problems arose regarding ownership and the sale of Maori land.  A number of “Native Acts” of Parliament were drafted, debated and referred back to the Crown with many eventually passed into law.   At the time, it was recognised that the Treaty was not designed to address these practical issues on ownership, so why should we expect it to nearly 180 years later?

Of significance was the Native Purposes Appropriation Act of 1862:

The Act created the Native Land Court (renamed the Māori Land Court in 1947) to identify ownership interests in Māori land and to create individual titles in place of customary communal ownership. This change made sales of Māori land easier and saw the beginning of fragmented ownership interests in Māori land. The Act also allowed for up to 5% of Crown-granted Māori land to be taken for public works without compensation.  

[…] The trend towards individual ownership created problems for retaining Māori land. By 1891, Māori had virtually no land in the South Island and less than 40% of the North Island. Much of the land still held by Māori was poor quality and hard to develop.

We must return the Treaty to its rightful place as an important historical document.  

Which is not to say we should not address the wrongs inflicted over the years because we should, and have been doing so.

An examination of the current mechanisms in place is well overdue after recognizing wrongs were done to both Maori and European as a result of the distortion of the content and scope of the Treaty.   Many years later we have not reached the place where Hobson and the Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty expected us to be, which was “we are all one”.

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The subject evoked in the collage is the debating of political issues with friends in a public place

Pablo Picasso
Glass and bottle of Suze (after 18 November 1912)
pasted paper, gouache and charcoal

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