WAITANGI Day on Feb 6 is New Zealand’s national day. The date is an important marker in the country’s history: the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on Feb 6, 1840. In that year, representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 Maori chiefs signed what is New Zealand’s founding document.
For some people, Waitangi Day is a holiday; for many, and especially for Maori, it is an occasion for reflecting on the meaning of the Treaty. Since the 1970s, the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day have been influenced by debate surrounding the place of the Treaty in modern New Zealand. Recognition of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation’s founding document will continue to encourage leaders, communities and individuals to mark the day in new ways.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi)
Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed. The Treaty is an agreement, in Maori and English, between the British Crown and about 540 Maori rangatira (chiefs).
The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Maori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The Treaty has three articles. In the English version, these are that Maori ceded the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Maori gave the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wished to sell, and, in return, they were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and that Maori would have the rights and privileges of British subjects.
Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate. It is common now to refer to the intention, spirit or principles of the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is not considered part of New Zealand domestic law, except where its principles are referred to in several Acts of Parliament. The exclusive right to determine the meaning of the Treaty rests with the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry created in 1975 to investigate the Crown’s alleged breaches of the Treaty. More than 1,000 claims have been lodged with the tribunal, and a number have been settled.
The people of Aotearoa New Zealand New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori, arrived around 800 years ago in waka (canoes) from Polynesia in the South Pacific. Maori define themselves as iwi (tribes), by descent from the crew of voyaging canoes or other illustrious ancestors.
New Zealand was not known to Europeans until 1642. More than 150 years later, settlers started to arrive from England, Scotland and Ireland. The journey was long and arduous, but they came in the hope of a better life. From the 20th century onwards, war, persecution and other troubles have led groups and individuals to migrate to New Zealand. Others have come by choice, seeking a change of lifestyle. Today’s New Zealanders celebrate a wide and varied heritage – from the Pacific, Europe, Asia, Africa and America.
But whatever the origin of today’s New Zealanders, for all Kiwis the Treaty is not just a historical relic, but a living document that continues to help define them as a people.
More information about the history of Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is available at:
www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/treaty/waitangi-day and www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz
* Sournce: New Zealand High Commission, Port Moresby