Note: We use ‘the Treaty of Waitangi’ and ‘te Tiriti o Waitangi’ interchangeably to signify the reo Maori text. We call the English language document ‘the Crown’s English language version’ or similar.
In drawing up the first reo Māori draft Henry Williams used the word mana in Article I (which is closest to the meaning of sovereignty) to name what was being granted to the Crown. After feedback from Northern Rangatira on that first reo Māori draft, that they could never give up their rangatiratanga or mana, changes were made, new wording was agreed upon and the second reo Māori version was prepared, in which the Crown was instead granted the right and responsibility to control non-Māori within the lands they had been granted. This significant change between the first reo Māori draft and the final reo Māori Treaty was done to reflect the vision of the Rangatira that the Governor was to have a status similar to theirs but certainly not rule over them. This was in direct contrast to the expectation of some that the Treaty was to set up a new British Colony. In fact, the reason many Rangatira agreed to sign was that their rangatiratanga was specifically confirmed in Article II.
The vast majority of the country would continue to be governed by Māori while English law applied only to the few Pākehā settlements at Kororāreka, Port Nicholson (Wellington), Auckland and a few other individual holdings around the country. This fits with the frequently reiterated views of Rangatira in later years, including at Waitangi Tribunal hearings, that the Treaty allowed for English law for settlers while endorsing tikanga Māori(jurisprudence, law) for the vast majority of the country.
What Māori intended in agreeing to Te Tiriti o Waitangi is set out in Ngāpuhi Speaks, the independent report on the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu initial hearing (pp. 240–241). While some points are specific to Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu, the broad intentions are pertinent to all Māori signatories. In summary these intentions are:
- Queen Victoria’s Governor would work with the Rangatira to maintain peace and good order, based on upholding the established authority and ordered way of life (āta noho) of the many hapū.
- The Governor was being granted the authority he needed to exercise control over Pākehā,
- Te Tiriti o Waitangi was an endorsement of He Wakaputanga, with its declarations of Māori mana and independence and their particular relationship with the British Crown.
- The international trade of the many hapū was to be advanced through a closer alliance with the British.
- Māori were allowing for more non-Māori to settle on their lands on the understanding that the Queen would uphold their authority (tino rangatiratanga) and her other guarantees in Te Tiriti.
- Māori would support the Queen by ensuring the safety of her people and by working co-operatively with her Governor.
- The Governor would investigate and rectify any unjust dealings over land.
- The Governor would sit with them, as guided by tikanga where hapu authority continued, so that together they could decide on matters of common concern and especially on those things that would advance their trading interests and bring peace for all.
Furthermore, He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti – The Declaration and the Treaty, the Waitangi Tribunal Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry (WAI 1040), which was released in October 2014 states clearly that the Rangatira who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, and outlines the intentions of the Rangatira who signed the Treaty as well as those of the Crown.
Britain’s representative Hobson and his agents explained the Treaty as granting Britain the power to control British subjects and thereby to protect Māori, while Rangatira were told that they would retain their tino rangatiratanga, their independence and full chiefly authority.
The Rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories; they did, however, agree to share power and authority with Britain. They agreed to the governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand, and thereby keep the peace and protect Māori interests. The Rangatira consented to the Treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence. The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Māori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.
The Tribunal said that, “having considered all of the evidence available to it, the conclusion that Māori did not cede sovereignty in February 1840 was inescapable”.
The Māori vision in signing the Treaty agreement was for an inclusive future, based on co-operation, mutual support and reciprocity between themselves and the Crown. The model of government would continue to be one of confederation, where the hapū and the Queen’s tribe would retain their distinct authorities, the leaders in their different areas coming together alongside the governor to resolve and advance issues of shared interest. Māori fully expected to retain their authority in the land, while expecting the governor and the Queen’s people to work in co-operation with them. Māori continue to hold this inclusive vision for their present and future relationships with the Crown, which effectively today is the New Zealand Government – operating at national, regional and local levels. Unfortunately, governments have held to unilateral decision making, or ‘indivisible sovereignty’, and have been unwilling to work as equals with Māori leadership however small but significant changes to this ethos are becoming apparent.