A (very short) history of Waitangi

The day is February 6th, 1840, the place is Waitangi, a small coastal town in the Bay of Islands, on this day The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in a house belonging to James Busby.

The Treaty of Waitangi is considered to be the founding document of New Zealand, built on the three principles of partnership, participation and protection. The treaty (an exchange of promises) was supposed to protect the Māori right to their land, while bringing New Zealand under British sovereignty. It was an agreement entered into by representatives of the Crown and of Māori iwi (tribes) and hapu (sub-tribes).


The country had been facing a great deal of unrest among different groups living in New Zealand, and a growing number of British were immigrating to the country, requiring land to settle on to begin their new lives. This caused trouble for New Zealand’s indigenous Māori as the British were quickly acquiring land and a large number of trades were taking place between Pakeha (European New Zealanders) and Māori. The Māori chiefs believed the treaty with the British would stop the fighting and give them control of the sales of Māori land to settlers, allowing the settlers and Māori to live together under a common set of laws or agreements.


If you speak more than one language you already know that words and phrases don’t all mean the same thing directly translated from one language to the next. The treaty was written in both English and te reo Māori and there were big differences in the understanding of the treaty, and some concepts like land ownership did not translate well.

Some Māori chiefs signed the treaty with the understanding that they were giving up their land to the government but kept the right to manage their own affairs, others thought that the governor would only have authority over the settlers, and not the Māori people themselves.

This has caused big tension in New Zealand and has caused protests throughout the years.

Nowadays, Waitangi Day is a public holiday where we celebrate the spirit of the treaty. To learn more about Waitangi Day, here are some fun family-friendly resources!

The Aotearoa History Show

Waitangi Day

He puka mahi Rā o Waitangi - Waitangi Day activity book

Te Tiriti o Waitangi by Ross Calman, Mark Derby and Toby Morris