Activity: Reckoning with what happened after 1840

Examine the need for healing and justice.

  • Soon after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it became clear that the Crown was not honouring what was promised to hapū and iwi rangatira. The collective wellbeing and survival of hapū and iwi was catastrophically impacted by:

    • Mass immigration

    • Introduced diseases

    • Pākehā law and legal system being imposed on Māori

    • Land wars

    • Legal interventions that resulted in huge land loss, te reo Māori being banned in schools, and traditional practices being suppressed

    • Impoverishment as a result of the destruction of Māori social organisation.

  • The impact of colonisation was so bad that some thought Māori were a dying race and going to become extinct. By 1896, the Māori population had halved in size and 700,000 settlers had arrived in Aotearoa, transforming the ratio of Māori to Pākeha from 50:1 to 6:100. Return to the pebbles that you had arranged earlier to represent the two groups at the signing of Te Tiriti. This time, arrange 6 pebbles in small clusters to represent hāpū and iwi, and the 100 pebbles to represent settlers.

Once you have arranged the items, discuss:

  • What has changed in years between 1840–1896?
  • What words would you use to describe this change?
  • How do you think the rapid immigration of settlers undermined Te Tiriti?
  • Despite the fact that rangatira had been promised that tino rangatiratanga over their people, whenua and waters would endure, land was very quickly and wrongfully taken. Explore the interactive map Māori land loss, 1860–2000 on NZ History, which shows the changes from 1860–2000. Reflect back on what you learnt about life for hapū and iwi prior to 1840.


  • How do you think the traditional ways of life prior to 1840 were affected by the taking of whenua?
  • What pictures, images or symbols could you draw to illustrate how identity, language and culture are tied to whenua?
  • What other methods could you use to communicate the ways in which the taking of whenua very nearly destroyed Māori communities (e.g. poetry, spoken word, dance, etc.)      
  • Read and discuss this quote:

The history of Aotearoa New Zealand is not an easy read. It’s tough for the heart and mind to digest. However, it is our desire to avoid this discomfort that has prevented so many from starting the learning journey.

It’s hard. In fact, it's really hard. As a society, I think we have avoided having this tough conversation and instead opted for the “Yes it was terrible but it’s time to leave the past behind us and move forward” approach to unity. Unfortunately, anyone who has suffered trauma will tell you this isn’t helpful. Having our voices heard and acknowledged is the first step towards healing.

Equity can’t be achieved if we simply try to sweep the traumatic events of our history under the mat. Furthermore, we are at serious risk of inflicting additional trauma on our indigenous people by inadvertently reinforcing the inequities through sheer ignorance.

– Janelle Riki-Waka, as quoted in Niho Taniwha: improving teaching and learning for ākonga Māori (2022), Melanie Riwai-Couch, p.38

  • Engage thoughtfully with the history of the place in which you stand. Be respectful, as many of our historical events remain painful for descendants of the tīpuna who experienced them. You may be able to use resources or reports from the Waitangi Tribunal, local museums, resources online from local hāpū and iwi or your relationship with mana whenua to find out the local stories of what happened in your area after 1840. Consider not just the events but how they breached the promises of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Māori rebel flag, 1869, by William Francis Gordon, watercolour. Gift of W.F. Gordon, 1916. Te Papa (1992-0035-1631/9)

  • This drawing is of a flag that was flown at the Battle of Pukehinahina, also known as Gate Pā. You may be able to locate symbols of resistance from your area, both historical and contemporary. Display these symbols of resistance, with descriptions of what they represent for your school community. You may also like to provide a response wall on which your community can write their own feelings and emotions in response to these symbols of resistance, persistence and defiance.

  • Te Tiriti justice has been a protest issue for a long time. Create a shared timeline of some of the events that have threatened the wellbeing of iwi and hapū in your area since 1840, as well as some of the acts of resistance and defiance too. Colour one set of events black and another red. Mana whenua have resisted assaults on their tino rangatiratanga for a very long time. Te Tiriti justice will remain a protest issue until we choose to honour it.