The 6th of February 1840 was a momentous and pivotal day in the narrative of New Zealand: it was the day that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. This document was an understanding between the British Crown and the Maori Chiefs about the protection and ownership of the colony of New Zealand. For better or worse, this treaty has shaped present-day New Zealand.
Treaty of Waitangi
Over 500 Maori Chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which was translated into Te Reo (Maori). Critically, there were meaningful differences between the translated versions. The document ultimately signalled the passing of power and rights to the British Crown, albeit giving Maori people the same rights and protections as Britons. The provisions have been subject to discussion since it was signed, due to what ensued.
Beginning in 1843, the Maori people took up arms against the British Government in what became known as the Maori or New Zealand Wars. This conflict started through land purchases by the Crown that the Maori people believed was protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. First in the Wairua area before hostilities in Taranaki and Waikato. The Maori people felt hoodwinked, thinking that they would have undisturbed ownership of their land. It was a rebellion, resulting in an outright refusal of the Maori people to accept British Sovernity.
In 1863 a law was passed by the Crown, giving the government the right of possession of land from any rebelling iwi (tribes) as punishment, fueling the hatreds further. The distinction between rebelling and amicable tribes became blurred, and increased land shifted into government ownership. There were unrecorded casualties, and lasting resentment before the wars came to an end in 1872.
The Treaty of Waitangi Act
Yet, some say that the wars never ended, but instead, it became a battle fought in the courtroom. In 1975, the Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed into law, forming the Waitangi Tribunal, that could make recommendations on claims relating to the practical application of the principles of the Treaty and determine its meaning and effect and whether specific matters are inconsistent with those principles. Since the 1990s there have been numerous retrospective cases to claim back protected lands and renaming of traditional and sacred places. Waitangi Day has been celebrated as a public holiday since 1975.
Overall, it would appear that times have changed. There are still many concerns and criticisms of the Treaty, the way the Crown acted and the amount of redress through the tribunal system. However, Maori culture has become an inherent part of New Zealand life.
I am unsure if this is because I see what I believe has changed and I am astounded at the union of Maori and European culture. I see two cultures becoming one. The Maori language is taught and spoken in mainstream entertainment. The Haka (a type of challenge) is part of every sporting event. The gap is closing between Maori and Europeans in poverty and education.
Maybe I am naive thinking that New Zealand seems to have done a pretty reasonable job, especially comparing it to other nations, but that is why I celebrate Waitangi Day. It’s not perfect and ther is still a lot of work to do, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.