The Treaty of Waitangi

New Zealand’s system of government is strongly influenced by the Treaty of Waitangi, known in the Māori language as Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

See the Treaty

If you’re in Wellington, you can actually see the Treaty of Waitangi. The original documents are kept in the Constitution Room at Archives NZ.

The Treaty is the agreement signed by representatives of the Queen of England and leaders of most Māori Tribes when Britain first claimed New Zealand as a colony in 1840. The settlement of Waitangi in Northland is still the focus of events when New Zealand celebrates the signing with a national holiday on February 6 each year (or the Monday following if the 6th falls on a weekend).

Maori lady talking with tourists

Why the Treaty is important

The Treaty governs the relationship between the indigenous people, Māori, and everyone else and ensures the rights of both Māori and Pakeha (non-Māori) are protected. It does that by:

  • Accepting that Māori iwi (tribes) have the right to organise themselves, protect their way of life and to control the resources they own.
  • Requiring the Government to act reasonably and in good faith towards Māori.
  • Making the Government responsible for helping to address grievances.
  • Establishing equality and the principle that all New Zealanders are equal under the law.

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa in Wellington has more information on the Treaty.

The Treaty of Waitangi | Te Papa

The Treaty and how New Zealand works

The principles of the Treaty are referred to in several Acts of Parliament. It is an important part of how New Zealanders work and the New Zealand education system.

Applying the Treaty affects life in New Zealand in many ways.

Māori representation in Parliament is guaranteed with reserved seats - currently there are seven. Many Māori are also Members of Parliament via ‘general’ electorates.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document.

There is a Waitangi Tribunal that researches and makes legal decisions on cases where Māori land and other resources were taken illegally or unfairly in the past. Quite often this results in large settlements for Iwi (tribes) including cash and land.

Many Iwi are putting these settlements to good use building major commercial enterprises - often becoming important employers in the process.

Some Waitangi Tribunal settlements don’t only benefit Māori. For example, a lot of work has been done to restore Auckland’s western harbour from waste and sewage despoliation after Māori living in the area lodged what’s known as the Manukau claim.

Another example of the Treaty in action is fisheries. Māori now have significant control of, and rights to, this important natural resource.

Māori language, Te Reo, is now an official language alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language. Increasingly often the names of places and organisations (particularly government departments) are written in both English and Māori.

To further help protect and preserve the language and culture, radio frequencies are reserved for Māori and the Māori funding agency Te Mangai Paho has also established a Māori television channel.

Maori fishing

Find out more

While you won’t be expected to be able to speak Māori (Te Reo), you should be aware of some of the most common phrases. You should also have a basic understanding of Māori protocol and Māori culture and customs. For some jobs, particularly in the government sector, this will be a requirement. See our Māori culture page.

Māori culture

Understanding the Treaty will help you to understand the influence it has in every aspect of life. You can find more information on these websites:

Waitangi Tribunal

National Library

New Zealand Archives

New Zealand History online

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Page last updated: 30/08/2016

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