top of page

Te Tiriti ō Waitangi / Treaty of Waitangi in Modern day New Zealand and the Commonwealth

On 6 February 1840, chiefs of the indigenous Māori tribes of Aotearoa (New Zealand) gathered in a small coastal town called Waitangi to sign a treaty with the British Crown. Amidst the chaos of early British settlement, Te Tiriti (the Treaty) was viewed as a means of establishing a new form of governance over the land and a partnership between the two parties based on the principles of reciprocity, mutual benefit, active protection, and the duty to act reasonably, honourably and in good faith.


The century that followed carried with it a conglomerate of British law that paved the way for mass immigration, resulting in the alienation of Māori-owned land. As the promises of Te Tiriti were broken in the subsequent years, war broke loose and the partnership crumbled. Te Reo Māori, the native language, was effectively outlawed, and brought close to extinction and Māori are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice and health systems.


A century of sustained advocacy and protest by generations of Māori saw the tides turn in the late 20th century. The Waitangi Tribunal was formed to hear and make recommendations on claims relating to Crown actions that were in breach of the promises in Te Tiriti. This process has resulted in 86 settlements enshrined through legislation and delivered with a Crown apology. The Māori economy has since grown exponentially. We have schools at all levels being taught in full emersion Te Reo Māori, and the Treaty Principles are being upheld by the judiciary, particularly in respect of challenges against the use of natural resources.


However, this progress isn’t assured. The newly elected government has pledged to review the principles of Te Tiriti. The government says the review process will clear “confusion” around its interpretation, but the stark reality is that it places Māori-focused policy at real risk of being undone. This has caused an uproar and mass protest across the country, with legal action already being taken against the government.


And so, 184 years on from that monumental day in Waitangi, I find myself reflecting on the impact that this Treaty partnership has had on me as a mixed Māori and New Zealand European citizen – a byproduct of the Treaty itself. My father has always likened the treaty partnership to the New Zealand Coat of Arms displayed above. On the right is a Rangatira or Māori Chieftain holding a taiaha, a Māori war weapon.  On the left, a European woman holding the New Zealand Ensign. Above the shield is St Edward’s Crown which was used in the Coronation ceremony of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, since acceded by King Charles III. On the shield, the four stars represent the Southern Cross. The three ships in the centre symbolise the importance of sea trade. The fleece represents the farming industry. The sheaf of wheat represents the agriculture industry and the crossed hammers represent mining. These are the symbols that are important to the fabric of her world.


But where is his world?


What is important in his world as a Rangatira of Aotearoa? There are six attributes of Rangatiratanga (chieftainship). These are whakapapa (genealogy), pumanawa (strength, talent and leadership), acceptance and confirmation by the people, identity, Turangawaewae (territory), gender (male and female), mana and tapu (authority, sacredness and respect). Central to these attributes is the concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and the relationship that one shares with its ancestral lands and the environment generally. 


The Rangatira on our Coat of Arms has made every effort to fit into her world. We know this because his descendants speak her language and practice her ideologies, not his. His descendants do not know him or his way of life, nor he them, and so my question for the Commonwealth is this; what can she do to reach across the shield, put on his cloak, and join his world?



Mereaira Jones is of Te Arawa and Tūeharetoa descent. She is the Chair of Ngāti Rānan. A Māori Club based in London which aims to provide New Zealanders residing in the United Kingdom and others interested in Māori culture an environment to teach, learn and participate in Māori culture.



The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

18 views0 comments
bottom of page