Like the Manga Carta or the American Declaration of Independence, New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi (signed by Captain William Hobson and some 45 Māori chiefs) is essentially a charter that laid the foundations of the relationship between English colonists and the country’s indigenous Maori people.

The treaty was created as a consequence of escalating disputes between the British formed government and the country’s indigenous Māori population. The British quickly realised the need to rubber-stamp its authority on its colony so that British settlers and the Māori people could live together under a common set of laws and agreements. Long the subject of debate over its exact interpretation, the treaty today takes on a more mediatory role in New Zealand politics and cultural life.

Similar to the experience of the Australian Aboriginals (who of course, were not initially allowed to debate issues of land ownership or sovereignty over the land of their ancestors), Māori people today still debate the merits of this agreement struck with their white intruders.

Some Māori academics argue that the two versions of the Treaty are distinctly different documents and that the Māori text should take precedence because it was the one that was signed at Waitangi and by the most signatories. Furthermore, the Maori Chiefs also had little regard (or understanding) of the legal system of those who had arrived to colonised them and believed oral agreements held more weight than written documents. In any event, it seems certain that the two sides left the signing ceremonies with sharply different ideas of what had been achieved. The British side believed they had gained sovereignty over a new colony. The Maori chiefs believed they had saved their country from being overrun by British settlers, and that the English Queen (Victoria) now protected their status as chiefs over their tribes. In essence, the reason for the difference is that Maori and English texts of the treaty differ in what they say. The various English versions agree on one thing, that the Queen is to have sovereignty. However, in the Maori version, the chiefs merely cede kawanatanga, the right to govern the country.

Despite its flaws, this unique treaty is a tangible effort to acknowledge the rights of New Zealand’s indigenous peoples – an effort never afforded to contemporaries of the Maori people, many of whom continue to suffer from the dispossession of land, the contempt of mining companies and shameful injustice. In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was established to consider claims by Māori people against the Crown regarding breaches of principles of the Treaty and to make recommendations to government to remove the prejudice and provide recompense. Since 1985 the tribunal has been able to consider Crown acts and omissions dating back to 1840, that has provided Māori people with an important means to have their grievances against the actions of past governments examined.

Whilst New Zealand continues to struggle to find solutions to appease all its people as do all nations, this process of seeking ‘common ground’ has spawned healthy and meaningful political discussion in the country. This has allowed all New Zealanders to find pathways that people can walk together, that emphasizes letting people talk instead of forcing them to argue and hopefully shifting the emphasis from finding winners and losers to instead bringing people together in a search for answers that both sides can live with.

Trips to New Zealand with Student Educational Adventures

Home to an enduring indigenous culture, a proud heritage of sport and vivid scenery – New Zealand can be as relaxed or as action-packed as you want. New Zealand is also a safe and welcoming destination, perfect for students interested in social justice issues, adventure pursuits, natural history and environmental matters.

An intricate component of any New Zealand trip with students is a comprehensive and highly enjoyable Maori immersion component. This can entail visits to a range of scared sites, studies and involvement in indigenous arts and sporting purists, partaking in traditional ceremonies and well as unique opportunities to interact with Maori students in a classroom setting.

Your school’s itinerary can naturally include a further study of the Treaty of Waitangi addressing themes of interpretation, injustice, reconciliation and empowerment.

For further information please contact our office at or head to the Destinations link on our website and click on New Zealand to see some sample travel itineraries.