Treaty of Waitangi

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The Treaty of Waitangi (Māori: Te Tiriti o Waitangi) is a treaty first signed on 6 February 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and various Māori chiefs from the North Island of New Zealand.

The Treaty established a British governor in New Zealand, recognised Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. The English and Māori language versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so there is no consensus as to exactly what was agreed to. From the British point of view, the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and gave the Governor the right to run the country. The Māori seem to have had a range of understandings, many of which conflicted with the British understanding. After the initial signing at Waitangi, copies of the Treaty were taken around New Zealand and over the following months many other chiefs signed. In total there are nine copies of the Treaty of Waitangi including the original signed on 6 February 1840.[1] Around 500 chiefs, including 13 or more women signed the Treaty of Waitangi.[2]

Until the 1970s, the Treaty was generally ignored by both the courts and parliament, although it was usually depicted in New Zealand history as a generous and loving act on the part of the Crown. From at least the 1860s, the Māori have looked to the Treaty for rights and remedies for land loss and unequal treatment by the state, with little success. From the late 1960s the Māori began drawing attention to breaches of the Treaty. Subsequent histories have emphasised problems with its translation. In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was established as a permanent commission of inquiry tasked with researching breaches of the Treaty by the Crown or its agents, and suggesting means of redress.

Today it is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Despite this, the Treaty is often the subject of heated debate. Many Māori feel that the Crown did not keep its side of the bargain and have presented evidence of this before sittings of the Tribunal. Some in the non-Māori population believe the Māori pay too much attention to the Treaty and use it to claim 'special privileges'. The Crown is in most cases not obliged to give effect to the recommendations of the Tribunal, but nonetheless in many instances has accepted that it breached the Treaty and its principles. Settlements to date have consisted of hundreds of millions of dollars in money and assets, as well as apologies.

The date of the signing has been celebrated as a national holiday, now called Waitangi Day, since 1974.


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