By Roger Childs

All citizens of the country regardless of their ethnic origins are first and foremost New Zealanders.

A holiday with meaning?

It was called New Zealand Day for a number of years, but as it was the date of the signing of Te Tiriti in 1840, Waitangi Day is fine. However, the Treaty was not our founding document as is often claimed. It was not until 21 May that Governor Hobson officially declared British sovereignty over the whole country.

The British had been reluctant to take on New Zealand as a colony and were happy for the Governor of New South Wales to oversee what was going on across the Tasman. However, issues of law and order, as well as race relations became more complicated and fraught during the 1820s and 1830s. 

The attitude of the British government changed as a result of

  • rapidly expanding economic activity – whaling, forestry, crop growing, pastoralism and trade 
  • increasing “European” settlement 
  • the possible threat of a French takeover
  • growing lawlessness especially in parts of Northland 
  • the activity of the New Zealand Company for planned settlements in both major islands 
  • requests from some missionaries and northern native chiefs to the English monarch to provide order and governance.

No concept of a nation before 1840

New Zealand in the decades before 1840 New Zealand had no government or political structure either indigenous or British. The native tribes were regularly at war with one another and there was no concept of a united indigenous nation. 

British Resident James Busby in 1835 did concoct a Declaration of Independence, mainly to head off the threat of Frenchman Baron De Thierry laying claim to New Zealand. But this attempt to impose nationhood was only signed by a small minority of 35 chiefs mainly from Northland, and never established a political system or a united country. The He Tohu exhibition in the National Library claims that the Declaration … was how rangatira told the world, back in 1835, that New Zealand was an independent Maori nation. This is nonsense.

Nevertheless the British government did accept the declaration, but with reservations. Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, stated in his 1839 instructions to Captain William Hobson who was designated to facilitate a New Zealand treaty — we acknowledge New Zealand as a sovereign and independent state, so far at least as it is possible to make that acknowledgement in favour of a people composed of numerous, dispersed and petty tribes who possess few political relations to each other… 

Hobson’s mission was to adopt the most effective means for establishing a settled form of civil government.

A Treaty for all New Zealanders

All the groups in the “country” – the Aboriginals later to be known as Maori, small groups of Melanesians and Micronesians, and “European” settlers, had equal rights to be in New Zealand and all were given the protection that the Treaty offered. 

As a result of the democratic process of signing the Treaty all of the country’s inhabitants became one nation, or as Hobson said after every chief signed the Treaty “he iwi tahi tatou”, we are one people…  New Zealanders living in New Zealand.

The stakeholders in the Treaty were the Crown and, every person living in New Zealand, and in particular the “ordinary people of New Zealand”, or as written in Te Tiriti o Waitangi “nga tangata maori Katoa o Nu Tirani”. (Aotearoa didn’t feature as the Maori term for New Zealand.)

What did the 1840 Treaty say?

After a two paragraph preamble three Articles spelled out the terms of the document.

  • The First Article related to sovereignty so was just addressed to the native chiefs. They … cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire Sovereignty of their country.
  • The Second Article was for all the people of New Zealand and stated that the Queen … confirms and guarantees … the full possession of their Lands, dwellings and all their property. It went on to say the Queen would have the exclusive right of purchasing such lands from Chiefs.
  • The Third Article stated that for the people of New Zealand … the rights and privileges of British subjects will be granted to them.

(Twenty years later at a meeting in Kohimarama over 100 chiefs endorsed the ceding of sovereignty to the Crown and showed clearly in their speeches just what that meant.)

There was no mention in the 1840 Treaty of a partnership between Maori and the Crown (constitutionally that is not possible), no Treaty principles, no reference to Forests and Fisheries and no concept of guardianship (kaitiakitanga).)

There is only one Treaty

That is Te Tiriti o Waitangi signed on February 6 at Waitangi. Copies were later taken around the country. This treaty was translated into Te Reo by Henry and Edward Williams using the Nga Puhi dialect from an English draft. The draft is known as the Littlewood Treaty and a copy was sent to Washington DC by US Consul James Clendon.

Freeman’s bogus Treaty

James Freeman was Hobson’s Secretary, and when a treaty for signing was needed at Waikato Heads and Manakau, he took it upon himself to write his own. (Hobson was sick at the time.) 

His Treaty excluded the reference in Article 2 to “all the people of New Zealand” and he added “Estates, Forests, Fisheries” to the possessions list in the same article. 

Freeman sent his copy to the Governor of New South Wales. 

His treaty was unauthorized and inaccurate so is not valid.   

Kawharu’s mistranslation

Professor Hugh Kawharu’s 1989 version changed the meaning of three crucial words:

  • Kawanatanga meant “sovereignty” in 1840, Kawharu made it “government”.
  • Rangitiratanga appeared in the original preamble but not in the articles. In 1840 it meant “possession”. Kawharu translated it as “chieftainship”. 
  • Taonga meant property, however, controversially Kawharu widened the meaning to “treasures” which opened the floodgates for claims to the Waitangi Tribunal.

So Kawharu’s version is also invalid.

Salvation for Maori

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi brought in the rule of law for all the people of New Zealand. It mean that there was freedom for slaves – mainly women – and the end of cannibalism, ruinous inter-tribal war which has killed over 40,000 people, female infanticide and the killing of prisoners. Disputes between tribes would now have to be settled in the courts.

Women were in fact the great beneficiaries of the Treaty, as slaves were released and the fear after battles of at worst death, and at best rape, abduction and servitude, was now gone. They had been the traditional food growers and in the decades following 1840 showed their entrepreneurial skills in providing supplies for the new European settlers.

Enjoy the day

Have a pleasant and relaxing Waitangi Day, but spare a few thoughts about why we have the commemoration and the holiday. Knowing the truth is important.