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  • Teddy O'Neill

Te Tiriti 101

Words by Teddy O'Neill (he/it/ia) | Ngāpuhi 

Kia ora koutou, and welcome to Te Tiriti 101. This feature is supposed to teach you all about what Te Tiriti actually is, what is says, and how colonisers fucked us Māori over. The first thing to cover is that Te Tiriti is still widely regarded as the only founding document of Aotearoa. If you think that, though, you’re wrong. 

He Whakaputanga

In 1831, 13 Ngāpuhi chiefs wrote to King William to request an alliance and protection. In 1835, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni was signed. He Whakaputanga is often forgotten, but was the first legal document to recognise Aotearoa as a sovereign nation ruled by Māori. It was drafted by 34 Ngāpuhi rangatira, and one British representative, (James Busby.) It was signed by Te Whakaminenga.

He Whakaputanga contains four articles, and states that sovereign power and authority (‘Ko te Kingitanga ko te mana i te w[h]enua’) lies with Te Whakaminenga, and that foreigners can’t make laws.

Most Māori saw He Whakaputanga as a way to properly ally themselves with Great Britain, and to show the wider world that they had authority. The British saw He Whakaputanga as a step towards making Aotearoa a British possession. 

It has been suggested that the Declaration was only taken seriously by the British in 1840, when it proved to be a hindrance to the annexation of Aotearoa. Before sovereignty could be transferred to the British crown via the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration had to be revoked. This is why rangatira who had signed He Whakaputanga, or their successors, were the first to be called to sign the Treaty.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

In 1840, up in Kororāreka, the British settlers were being little shits, (drinking, murdering, etc.) Rangatira asked the Crown if something could be done about their subjects and their behaviour. The Crown already had an interest in monopolising Aotearoa, and replied with the Treaty of Waitangi. On the 6th of Feb, the Treaty was signed.

The issue here lies in the differences between the Reo Māori and English versions. 

In Article One, the English version states that Māori leaders gave the Queen, “all the rights and powers of sovereignty” over their land. In the Māori text, Māori leaders gave the Queen “te Kawanatanga katoa”, or the government over their land. 

Reo Māori didn’t have a translation for sovereignty, because rangatira had authority over their own whenua but there was no one ruler of the country, so the concept of sovereignty didn’t exist. The English translators instead used the word ‘Kawanatanga,’ which led Māori to believe that they would hold onto their power and that they would be agreeing to let the Queen could govern her own subjects while they lived in Aotearoa, with Māori letting those subjects live in Aotearoa, in exchange for protection from the Crown. The Waitangi Tribunal have concluded that Māori never ceded sovereignty to the Crown. 

In Article Two, the English text states that Māori were guaranteed “exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties”. It also states that the British exclusively can purchase Māori land. The Māori text states that Māori were guaranteed “tino rangatiratanga” over “taonga”—which would mean that Māori had full authority over anything Māori deemed of value. And while this includes land, properties and fisheries, it also includes knowledge and language. Māori also agreed to give the Crown the right to buy their land if they wished to sell it, but it’s not clear if the exclusivity of Crown purchases was made apparent to Māori. 

In Article Three, the Crown assured that Māori would have the Queen’s protection and all rights (tikanga) accorded to British subjects. This is considered a fair translation.  

Not everyone signed Te Tiriti on the 6th of Feb, though. Nine copies of Te Tiriti were made, only one in English, so that they could be taken around the country to other rangatira to sign throughout 1840. Some iwi didn’t sign at all.

Over the course of the next century, the promises made within Te Tiriti were ignored by the Crown. One of the biggest broken promises was the undisturbed possession of Māori land. In the 80 years between 1840 and 1920, Māori went from owning 100% of Aotearoa, to only 8%. By 1903, the usage of Te Reo Māori as a means of communication and instruction had been banned in schools, where Māori children were beaten and otherwise disciplined for using it. Many older Māori generations therefore grew up without Reo Māori, jeopardising our culture and directly violating Article Two. 

Today, though Te Tiriti is more recognised, the promises within are still not fulfilled. The disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority will be detrimental to the healthcare of Māori. Right now, the ACT party wants to implement the Treaty Principles Bill, where they will be “defining” what exactly Te Tiriti means in order to create “equal rights for all New Zealanders.” The platform that this proposed referendum would be giving to those who want to remove protection and equity for Māori is worrying. 

Te Tiriti is the primary document. Te Tiriti is the document Aotearoa should be living under.

Decolonise Aotearoa. Toitū Te Tiriti. Wānanga with treaty experts rather than men who don’t know anything about what they’re talking about. 


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