Quick answers to common questions about the Treaty of Waitangi

What is the Treaty of Waitangi?

The Treaty of Waitangi is an agreement signed by representatives of the British Crown and by representatives of Māori tribal groups, in 1840.

Why did Māori sign the Treaty?

Māori signed for many reasons, including:

  • the mutual benefits British settlement would bring

  • protection of land and tribal position

  • the relationship with Britain and Queen Victoria

  • protection from tribal violence and unruly British traders.

What was the population of Māori compared to settlers at the beginning of 1840?

The Māori population was estimated at just over 100,000 at the beginning of 1840. The settler population was 2000. The two populations drew even by the late 1850s.

Was there war between the British and Māori before 1840?

There was no war between British and Māori before 1840, although sometimes there was fighting between Māori groups, and among unruly Pākehā traders.

Are the English and Māori versions the same?

English and Māori versions of the Treaty are not the same. The words used in each have different meanings. Around five hundred Māori signed the Māori version that was translated from the English version. Only thirty-nine signed the English version.

Why are there Treaty of Waitangi claims?

Since 1840, governments have not always upheld the Treaty promise of protection for Māori. Where actions have been unjust they have created a sense of grievance among Māori. Recent governments have recognised this and set up processes to address grievances and restore good relationships.

Does anyone challenge the evidence of the claimants at the Waitangi Tribunal?

Yes – Crown lawyers take a major role and ensure alternative evidence is put forward where necessary. Then if a claim moves towards settlement, the Crown asks for proof that it is well founded. Parliament has the final say in settlements.

Can private land be used for Treaty settlements?

Land in private ownership cannot be given back to Māori. There are two exceptions. Firstly, private owners might buy land knowing it has a memorial on it that notes the land could be returned to Māori as part of a successful claim settlement. Second, the Crown might buy private land to use as part of a settlement.

Are issues over treaties and indigenous rights being debated in other countries or just here in New Zealand?

Yes – other countries are addressing similar issues such as treaties and indigenous rights. Canada and Australia, for example, are each dealing with these matters in their own way. More than a dozen countries have visited New Zealand to see how we are doing things.