Piha, Aotearoa New Zealand by Sylvain Cleymans.

On 6 February 1840, over 500 Māori Rangatira (chiefs) put their names to an important document called Te Tiriti of Waitangi or the Treaty of Waitangi in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This document was written in two languages, one in English and one in Māori. It was written by James Busby and Captain William Hobson. They wrote a draft version in English first, then it was translated into Māori by Henry Williams, a missionary, with help from his son Edward.

Through their signatures, moko or marks, the Rangatira made an agreement with the British Crown. At stake was the rangatiratanga or sovereignty, or governance of the country of “Niu Tireni” New Zealand.

Most Rangatira signed the Māori version. The text in Māori differs in critical ways from the English. The ‘contra proferentum’ rule applies here, meaning that the interpretation is to be against the writer. Where an agreement is ambiguous, the preferred meaning would be the one that works against the interests of the party who provided the wording. The New Zealand government completely ignores this important legal clause when discussing Te Tiriti o Waitangi as it knows that it has no legal basis for any of its laws.

The confusion, as iwi and hapū quickly learned, was a threat to their rangatiratanga, or sovereignty. Nearly 200 years later, the debate continues vigorously.

The New Coalition Government replaces so called ‘Race Based Policies’.

On 5 December 2023, thousands of Māori people across the country demonstrated their displeasure at some of the policies that the new Coalition Government is in the process of changing which will affect Māori.

David Seymour, leader of the Act Party, campaigned for a Treaty Principles Act, which would override the Treaty of Waitangi and change its implications for interpreting laws in courts and would reshape New Zealand’s Constitution.

New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, also promised to end policies based on race. He wants to:

  • remove Māori names of government departments,
  • withdraw New Zealand from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
  • introduce a bill making English an ‘official’ language of New Zealand.

“Now more than ever we need to stand up for Tiriti-centric Aotearoa that works for everyone,” said Marama Davidson, Co-leader of the Greens.

Last week, while most members of parliament were swearing their allegiance to the King and Crown with their hand on the Bible, members of Te Pati Maori expressed their allegiance in a different way: “I, Takuta Ferris, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to our mokopuna (grandchildren) according to tikanga Māori (Māori custom). I will perform my functions and duties and exercise my powers in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi”; a new member of parliament for Te Paati Maor, the Maori Party.”

Māori leaders have warned of the possibility of civil disobedience over moves to change the Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Makareta Tawaroa rsj