What is the Declaration of Independence?
- Is an international declaration of sovereignty
- Was made by Te Wakaminenga (Confederation of Chiefs)
- Was signed on 28 October, 1835
- Was recognised by Great Britain and other international states
- Was the forerunner of Te Tiriti o Waitangi
- Has an internationally-recognised flag to indicate tribal rights to trade as independent nations
The Declaration of Independence – more correctly, He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tīreni – is a Māori proclamation to the international world that this country was an independent state, and that full sovereign power and authority (mana, tino rangatiratanga) resided in rangatira and the hapū they represented. It was declared at Waitangi on 28 October 1835. The signatories were members of Te Wakaminenga, also known as “the Confederation of Chiefs”. Thirty-four rangatira from the North signed the declaration at Waitangi. By 1840 there were 52 signatories; these included Te Wherowhero, leading Tainui rangatira from the Waikato, and Te Hapuku of Ngāti Kahungunu in the Hawkes Bay. There is also evidence that the Declaration was signed by Te Heuheu, influential Tūwharetoa ariki (major leader) from the central North Island, and as late as 1890 by 40 rangatira at Hauraki.
In reaching an agreement about the Declaration, the rangatira took advice from James Busby and the merchant James Clendon, who was later to become the United States consul. Busby was troubled by reports that the Frenchman Baron Charles de Thierry was claiming he had bought a large amount of land in the Hokianga and planned to come to New Zealand to set himself up as a sovereign. The rangatira concerns were broader than this, however. They wished to establish their authority in the eyes of the international world and further their expanding trading interests.
The rangatira also wanted to advance their ties of friendship with the British monarchs with whom a mutually advantageous relationship was growing. The Crown was invited to ensure that others did not infringe the independence of the hapū, especially as the rangatira and their hapū were showing friendship and care to the Pākehā living on their lands. Importantly, the Declaration made it clear that “no separate legislative authority” (kawanatanga) would be allowed in the country except as appointed and directed by Te Wakaminenga, that is, the Confederation.
Busby forwarded the Declaration to Britain, which formally recognised New Zealand’s sovereign independence in 1836. This sovereign independence was also recognised by France and the United States of America.
He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tīreni – The Declaration of Independence – has never been rescinded by the hapū and rangatira who signed it. It is fundamental to understanding the intentions of the rangatira who assented to the Treaty at Waitangi in 1840. For them Te Tiriti o Waitangi is an endorsement of the provisions set out in the Declaration.
The British and New Zealand governments paid little regard to the Declaration after the signing of the Treaty, claiming that the Treaty overrode the Declaration. However, prior to 1840, the British Crown was clear that New Zealand’s sovereignty had been internationally recognised and that it could have no authority in New Zealand unless Māori leaders gave their assent.
It is important to note that He Wakaputanga, the Declaration, endorses a confederated form of government, as in Te Wakaminenga, the General Assembly of Hapū. Ngāpuhi scholar, Nuki Aldridge, likened Te Wakaminenga’s operation to that of the United Nations (Ngāpuhi Speaks,p. 106). Each hapū retained its mana and independence, while their leaders came together in Assembly to advance matters of common interest. The Declaration of Independence is critically important to New Zealand’s constitutional history and it is a matter for concern that its history is so little known.