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Tiriti o Waitangi

June 6, 2013

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This weeks blog is based on the lectures covering the Treaty of Waitangi.

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was and remains still, one of the most important and seminal, albeit controversial moments in New Zealand history. The idea of a treaty came about initially after numerous complaints to the Crown were made by Maori, settlers, and missionaries, regarding the raucous, unruly behavior of whalers and sealers, and convicts and sailors.

In response in 1832, the Crown sent James Busby to research and draft a legally binding document. When this was completed 2 years later it was met with an ambivalent reception, so in 1836 Downing St. sent Captain William Hobson to New Zealand to try to succeed where Busby failed. Tasked with 3 specific goals: to pursue a cession of sovereignty, to establish a civil government, and to acquire control over land related issues.

In return Maori were promised legal recognition and entitlement to the same rights as British citizens. After the first signing of the treaty on February 6th, 1840, copies of the document were taken around the country, and eventually had amassed the signatures of approximately 530 chiefs.

Written originally in English, the Treaty was then translated into Maori, and it is the issues surrounding translation discrepancies that has lent itself to such much debate and disagreement. In particular the interpretation of 3 specific words has been at the heart of the contention: governorship, chieftainship, and property.

Even today, some 170 years later the purpose created Waitangi Tribunal, and the Maori Land Court are still addressing, debating and attempting to rectify land issues that stem directly from the original treaties.

The significance and national effects of the Treaty of Waitangi have fluctuated over the years, finally receiving significant recognition in 1975. As New Zealand does not have an official constitution, the Treaty of Waitangi, among other documents is considered part of the framework of the nation. In light of this it is therefore a very important document and a fundamental part of the New Zealand collective ethos.

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