Waitangi, home of the treaty – Roadside Stories
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Waitangi, home of the treaty – Roadside Stories

November 18, 2019

[Speech from 1940] On this day we are gathered
together at this place to commemorate the greatest event in the annals of New Zealand’s
history, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This great document, simple in form, fundamental
in application, has stood the test of time in spirit and in letter. It has been the foundation
and the bulwark of our nationhood. [Actor’s voice] Her Majesty the Queen asks
you to sign this treaty. I ask you for this publicly; I do not go from one chief to another.
You yourselves have often asked the King of England to extend his protection unto you.
Her Majesty now offers you that protection in this treaty. [Narrator] The Treaty of Waitangi, signed
at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on the 6th of February 1840, is considered New Zealand’s
founding document. At the time, there were about 100,000 Māori
living in New Zealand, and only 2000 Europeans, or Pākehā. The Europeans felt it was necessary
to have a formal acceptance of their settlement. Māori were interested in having European
setters because they provided trading opportunities. On the 5th of February 1840, the day before
the Treaty was signed, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson explained the purpose of a
proposed agreement between the British government and Māori to a large gathering of chiefs
assembled at Waitangi. The meeting took place in front of the house
of the British Resident, James Busby. Chiefs from a number of northern tribes had come
to Waitangi by canoe and assembled on a clearing near the Resident’s house. The newly appointed
governor, Captain William Hobson, had arrived a week earlier from Sydney. Anglican, Catholic
and Wesleyan missionaries also attended, with the Reverend Henry Williams, who spoke Māori,
interpreting the speeches of the governor and the chiefs. After Hobson had spoken, Williams read out
the text of the Treaty in Māori. Then the chiefs rose one by one to offer their responses.
That evening they retired to nearby Te Tii Marae on the banks of the Waitangi River to
continue discussing the document. The next day, the chiefs reassembled in front of the
[Treaty] house and 45 of them signed the Treaty. Some chose not to. In essence, the Treaty formally extended British
rule over New Zealand and required Māori recognition of the Governor’s authority. In
return, the British government guaranteed Māori their lands, forests and fisheries,
and gave them the legal rights of British subjects. It also stipulated that only the
Crown could buy Māori land. However, within five years, Māori and the
British government were at war in northern New Zealand over the ongoing loss of Māori
land and resources. To some, the Treaty seemed to be simply a
device to help spread European settlement. Others argued it was a sincere attempt to
create a society that protected Māori interests as well as the Crown’s. But by the end of
the 19th century, Māori had been told by the Chief Justice that the Treaty was ‘a nullity’
with no standing in law. Waitangi, where the Treaty negotiations took
place, was also ignored. The [Treaty] house lay in disrepair and the Treaty itself was
so neglected that parts of it were eaten by rats. But in 1932, the Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe,
bought the land at Waitangi and gifted it to the nation, as well as organising the restoration
of the [Treaty] house. This prompted the construction of a beautiful Māori meeting house nearby.
Its carvings represented many of the country’s tribes and commemorated the Treaty’s centenary
in 1940. A large waka, or canoe, was also built. While the centenary was a great occasion,
the Treaty itself continued to be largely ignored. Not until 1975, when the Waitangi
Tribunal was established to investigate grievances, did the Treaty begin to be taken seriously.
Since then, it has helped determine government policy and is recognised in the law courts. At Waitangi today, the Treaty house and the
flagstaff stand on extensive manicured lawns. The grounds also include the centennial meeting
house and the great waka, which is housed close to the beach where the chiefs landed
in 1840. The Treaty grounds are now visited by around
180,000 people a year. On Waitangi Day itself, the 6th of February, large numbers attend
the celebrations.

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