Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important historic site.
Often called the ‘Birthplace of our Nation’, Waitangi weaves together the strands and stories of many people, events and places to reveal the rich cultural history of Aotearoa New Zealand, offering an inspiring and meaningful experience for every visitor. Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a place for all New Zealanders and the place where much of New Zealand’s history was shaped through the signing of the Declaration of Independence, He Whakaputanga, in 1835 and the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840. Today, Waitangi can be seen as a tūrangawaewae for all those who call New Zealand home – a place where they can stand and feel they belong. The events leading up to signing of these dcouments, the actual signing and their ongoing relevance to our nation are fully examined in Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi.
The history of Waitangi
Waitangi is a place of cultural, spiritual and historical significance for Aotearoa New Zealand, and has been a place of gathering for hundreds of years.
Since New Zealand’s rediscovery by Europeans, there had been occasions of tension as explorers Abel Tasman, James Cook and Marion du Fresne arrived and attempted to stake their claim for their countries.
Waitangi was traditionally a meeting ground for the many tribes of the Bay of Islands, so when James Busby, the first British Resident was appointed in 1833, the location of Waitangi was supported by local Māori.
Visits that started well and initially proved to be mutually beneficial could end in conflict as Europeans remained ignorant to Māori customs and protocol, and in some instances caused irreparable offence to tangata whenua (people of the land). However, as the benefits of trade strengthened, there was a growing desire from both Māori and Europeans to improve mutual understanding of language, culture and ways of life.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi
A growing desire for international recognition of New Zealand (and its governance) led to a meeting of Māori chiefs in 1835 at Waitangi. Concerned about the intentions of the growing number of Europeans, the chiefs put their signatures to a document which declared New Zealand’s independence. This Declaration of Independence (He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni) was acknowledged and supported by the British Government. However, overseas interests continued to arrive, with the United States and France competing for influence in New Zealand, as well as private British and French companies planning settlements.
Over time, British ties proved to be stronger than all others, with Māori and British becoming interdependent through business, marriage, children and religion. As a result, the Treaty of Waitangi was drafted by Captain William Hobson, and translated by Reverend Henry Williams into te reo Māori before being presented to local rangatira (chiefs). The Māori version of the Treaty was signed at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 by about 40 chiefs following extensive discussion and debate. By September 1840 over 500 leaders from throughout New Zealand had signed Māori versions of the document while only 39 signed the English version. Nine copies were circulated throughout New Zealand for rangatira to sign. Many chiefs were not given the opportunity to sign or chose not to sign their name.
Most rangatira signed the Māori version (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and by 1845 there was much discontent stemming from different translations of key terms in the two versions, particularly relating to sovereignty and possession of lands and other properties.
The Treaty today
By 1867 Māori, now outnumbered by Europeans in New Zealand and dispossessed of much of their land, were granted four seats in Parliament. From this small beginning the political strength of Māori grew, both inside and outside the system.
After more than 100 years, the endurance of Māori resulted in the Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975, an Act of Parliament which now governs and guides all Treaty-related issues and claims in New Zealand. This Act resulted in the formation of the Waitangi Tribunal which has heard and settled claims since 1975 and continues to be an integral part of contemporary Māori’s dedication to the struggle and resilience of their ancestors.
Waitangi Day, a day to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is an acknowledgement of New Zealand’s past which provides a platform for all New Zealanders to consider what the Treaty means today. Recent years have seen the Government at Te Whare Rūnanga come together across parties to engage with mana whenua at the place where the Treaty was first signed.