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  • Writer's pictureSara@MāoriLAB

Waitangi - Wielding big power.

This is a first reflection, (there are many!) a week or so after Waitangi Day 6 February 2024, a day that Aotearoa/NZ commemorates the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi 6 Feb 1840, Māori and the British.

From 1769, Māori were sailing in the open seas to Britain, to Australia for trade and exchanges. It was suggested by King George IV that they needed a flag for Aotearoa, or Nu Tireni or New Zealand as it was known to foreigners, to show whether they were a Nation that was friend or foe of Britain. Long story short He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni, The Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, 1835. Declaring, for the King's benefit, that Māori were indeed the rulers of New Zealand.

5 years later Te Tiriti o Waitangi could be seen, not as the proclamation of our position as the authority of New Zealand, that had occurred 5 years before, and Queen Victoria, in the first line, re-emphasises that point. "Ko Wikitoria, te Kuini o Ingarani, i tana mahara atawai ki nga Rangatira me nga Hapu o Nu Tirani i tana hiahia hoki kia tohungia ki a ratou o ratou rangatiratanga, me to ratou wenua a kia mau tonu hoki te Rongo"

Queen Victoria, the Queen of England, is concerned to protect the chiefs and the subtribes of New Zealand and desires to preserve their chieftainship and their lands to them, and to maintain peace". In International Law to supersede a previous treaty, it has to be done so immediately. Here the Queen was re-emphasising the position of Māori as Rangatira of Nu Tireni.

Oversimplifying, Te Tiriti o Waitangi was not a document Māori needed. It is not our founding document, (Māori) we already had founded it, for some, they come from the whenua. It was the British needed it, it is their founding document, to satisfy British and International law, and have Māori allow them to be here, and have first dibs to anything, before the French, Americans and anyone else that was starting to come to Aotearoa.

It was, you could say, the first Immigration Document, Māori favouring the British first. Māori allowed it, secure in our position as rangatira and we did it through the mechanism that already existed for us, TUKU rangatira, mentioned several times through Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Tuku rangatira is more like a lending of a right to be somewhere, use something, for a reason and a season, and then mana, rangatira reverts back to the people lending it to you, understanding utu, reciprocity, that one day you will need that lent to you. This we practised with each other. So, instead of saying to the British, you come only under our law, no, we said you come to the places we allow, you sort yourselves out, because we are the rangatira, our careful balance of law will prevail. It's a much bigger, broader, more profound understanding of power. As I have said, two nations stood at the precipice of new beginnings, power sharing, but for one nation business as usual for their mindset and way of thinking prevailed, and the rest, as you say, is history! But Māori have always maintained our Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni, even if deeply within our hearts, minds and souls.

Fast forward to Feb 6th 2024. There was much anticipation for this one, David Seymour's Act Party, Treaty Bills agenda.

His argument for these changes are many but essentially it’s the same as I’ve heard from so many people who still do not understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi. That is why I gave the above very shortened picture, to definitely include He Wakaputanga. You cannot have one without the other.

His premise is that it's a Treaty between Māori and the Crown. Therefore, what about everyone else in the country?

Well actually it was between Māori and Queen Victoria of England, not the middle management of NZ Government set up in The Constitution Act 1852, which decided how Parliament would happen in New Zealand. It was the reversal of power, the British trying to tell Māori how it would go.

It was a relationship and an assurance. There is much literature confirming this, with letters describing how British thought about Māori, about not having an appetite for ‘colonising’ New Zealand, given they were stretched, it was too expensive, and that they now had the Declaration of Indepence from Tribes of New Zealand. Te Tiriti o Waitangi was simply to reiterate that relationship to protect the British need for those already in Aotearoa, reassurance that they would be first to be protected, and gain any opportunity. 

The assumption was everybody came after the British. There was no care for the welfare of non-British, that being the French, the Americans, etc.


David Seymour is essentially saying his understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is unfair to everyone else. He said, “If Māori have tino rangatiratanga, what about everyone else? You’ve got to have equal rights for every kid born today.”


So many misconceptions. Firstly, at this time, and for about 180 years, Māori do not have tino rangatiratanga, meaning self-autonomy and much, much more than that. The ‘Crown’ does. At the bare minimum, Tino Rangatira ought to be given back to Māori, alone, given we were the people of this land that shared some rights and responsibilities with the British in Aotearoa under the Queen’s assurance, under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. No-body else lost those rights, lost their country, here in Aotearoa, only Māori did, therefore, only Māori are entitled to that. We first shared, wrongly, with the British. We do not have another country to go ‘home’ to, this is our home. 

Everyone else does. Any rights they have will be under the ‘Crown’, as today’s poor representative of Queen Victoria. I reiterate, it was similar to an immigration document, Māori allowing foreigners in, under certain circumstances. 


This Waitangi, as I said, there was much anticipation to hear more. It had already rallied Māori to Turangawaewae the month before, at the karanga of the Kingi. 

The media had suggested there was going to be real tension, possible outbursts. And what really impressed me were three things;

The Pōwhiri of the Government, the hīkoi arrival of hundreds, and the kai giving to the public. The pōwhiri evidencing one of our tikanga, processes of wielding big emotions to discuss real issues with mana, with candour, with courage. The second, Hīkoi, another tikanga developed, the peaceful march, also managing, wielding huge emotion to make our points clear. Such evidence of our constant ability and maturity to contain and wield such big emotions, historical and present sadness, injustice, anger, hurt, about big kaupapa, the future of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and still to deliver powerful messages that were so controlled yet clear. And then the manaaki, the generosity to feed those outside the rope, the public, by our iwi, our kuia, our rangatahi, pākeke, tātou katoa. Ensuring the wellbeing of all. It moved me greatly for all those who have continued the korero ake, ake, ake. Karanga au ki a koutou ki tō koutou ngākaunui, tō koutou mana, tō koutou hiringa.


The Hīkoi at Waitangi

I do acknowledge that the two side parties are apparently Māori. We too I suppose are allowed to have stupidity, but in light of the profound peace, mana that was maintained, upheld, given, thankfully they are in the minority.


The pōwhiri, the welcome of the hīkoi, the feeding of the 10,000, all occurred outside the Whare Rūnanga. The symbol of defiance and hope. As discussions took place about the Treaty Bill the immature, ignorant understanding of Seymore, Peters and Luxon’s own history was evident. 

In 1877, as is known, Judge Prendergast in the case of Wi Parata, declared the Treaty as legal nullity. Just like that all manner of taking Māori land, tikanga and reo was justified. And as the centenary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi approached, it was still a legal nullity, my great grandfather, Taurekareka Henare, along with  Sir Apriana Ngata and Princess Te Puea, and others decided to build this Whare Rūnanga as a reminder of what was agreed to and given, by Māori to the British in in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, what the British promised, and to acknowledge all that Māori lost as a result of the British dishonour of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

The creation of Te Whare Rūnanga was also to unify Māori, to continue to believe, in the face of the opposite, that they were still Rangatira, with mana, with great purpose and need. My grandfather died a month before the Centenary. He never saw it opened.



(The dawn ceremony 6 Fbruary 2024)

It only took another 37 years, thanks to him, and others like him and more of our people’s determination to insist on Te Tiriti’s place in Aotearoa, New Zealand. With Ngāti Whatua’s Bastion Point peaceful sit-in protest and the famous hīkoi of Dame Whina Cooper, ‘Not one more acre!’, the Crown relented and legislated The Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 came into legislation.


Ngāti Hine kai(food) providers.

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