Relevance today of The Treaty of Waitangi
New Zealand’s Founding Document
The Treaty of Waitangi, in my opinion, has unique relevance in New Zealand’s political and legal history as a significant attempt at formalising relationship between the British Crown and all Maori Chiefs, Tribes and their families. While I consider the Treaty document was inadequately translated and poorly delivered across cultural divides, nevertheless, today, with the benefit of hindsight and with advances in educated understanding of the historical drivers and intent that forged the Treaty, I believe it provides a foundation for addressing inequalities and injustices today and a template for future development of multi-cultural New Zealand.
The all-inclusive intent of the Treaty is evident in both the Preamble and in The First Article where Maori parties to the agreement included both Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and also independent Chiefs who had not become members of the Confederation. The Preamble further defines intended beneficiaries of laws contained in the treaty as including “the native population” and Queen Victoria’s “subjects”. Quite apart from the power balance ratio of the population, the intention was certainly to protect all inhabitants of New Zealand from “the evil consequences” of lawlessness that was already occurring and also to “to protect their just rights and property and to secure to them the enjoyment of peace, good order and citizenship”.
Discrepancies between the English and Maori language versions of the Treaty Document were considerable. Article 1 in the Maori version gave the Queen governance (te kawanatanga katoa) over the land, whereas in the English version, the chiefs gave the Queen “all the rights and powers of sovereignty. Article 2 in the Maori version guaranteed chieftainship over land, property and treasures, whereas the English version guaranteed “exclusive and undisturbed possession of lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties. These differences in understanding were I believe countered to some extent during discussions at the time and Maori understood the effects of ceding sovereignty in return for protection from harm that they were suffering from immigrants.
Setting aside their different concepts of land ownership and the injustices that later occurred, the aspirations of Maori and Pakeha in signing the Treaty were, in my opinion, similar. Both wanted to see an end to lawlessness and both, I consider, were aware that this was an international treaty that ceded sovereignty of one nation to another and conferred citizenship on the indigenous population (unlike the American Indians who had to apply for American Citizenship individually). Britain had recently abolished slavery and the honourable aspiration was that New Zealand would be a new type of colony where the immigrants and Maori would co-exist and intermarry. The violations of the Treaty by successive New Zealand Governments have caused damage to Maori that has only recently started to be addressed with compensation claims. This legal process is a first step towards formulating a new future for New Zealand. I believe the principles of the Treaty are as relevant now as they were in 1840 and that the change in balance of power is irrelevant because the Treaty was between two nations rather than between populations of immigrants and indigenous people.
New Zealand has a founding document that can be applied to all citizens. The original document, despite inadequacies in delivery, contains principles that are equally applicable today as they were at the signing. These principles recognise the dignity of Maori as the indigenous race occupying New Zealand in 1840 and with today’s better understanding of Maori language and culture, there is a possibility, I believe, of continuing to address treaty claims and beyond that of bringing healing and a positive future for Maori and all New Zealanders. Whanau Ora in my opinion embodies the essence of life after Treaty Settlement where, the Government, having commenced legal restitution, is now providing a process that across generations, has potential to restore to Maori their mana and family structure that was diarised by Captain James Cook (Encyclopaedia Britannica), but was destroyed by colonisation and urbanisation.