• Thu, 2, Feb, 2017 - 5:00:AM

Understanding the Treaty of Waitangi: Why it's vital to protect our taonga

The Treaty of Waitangi is one of the founding documents of Aotearoa. The implications of this document have had, and will continue to have, resounding effects for Māori and for the whole of our country... yet what we know about it as a country is abysmal.

It wasn’t until I came to university and paid thousands of dollars to access this level of education that I actually began to understand what the Treaty means for us. Shades of legality, differing levels of involvement from different iwi, and idealogical differences between the English version and the Te Reo translation. In essence, a document thats meaning may be ambivalent to many.

The word ‘Taonga’ as used in Te Tiriti has been on my mind a lot lately, as we approach another Waitangi Day. In the Te Reo Māori version of the treaty, the Crown grants Māori ‘tino rangatiratanga’ over their whenua, their kainga, and their ‘taonga’. In the English version, these things are gathered under the mantle of ‘Lands and Estates, Forestries, Fisheries and other Properties... etc.’.

Tino Rangatiratanga is a relationship, it encompasses autonomy, independence, a relationship of care with the taonga over which we hold Tino Rangatiratanga. It is imperative that we protect our taonga, if we are to reach any sense of mutual identity in Aotearoa. However, the concept of ‘taonga’ is much more than ownership of physical properties.

If we are to take The Treaty of Waitangi as it word, it is not only this country’s duty to look after Māori land and Māori resources, it is also New Zealand’s duty to look after our culture, our language, and our people. Without nurturing these things, Te Ao Māori will struggle to maintain its Tino Rangatiratanga.

‘Taonga’ is all encompassing, a term for everything that is dear and important to us. Protecting our taonga is so much more complex than just giving back ownership rites to the land we have been connected to always as Māori. ‘Protect our taonga’ means encouraging Te Reo Māori to be taught in all schools, encouraging Māori voices in  society, and allowing whakaaro Māori (our ideologies) to flourish. ‘Protect our taonga’ means taking a holistic approach to the healthcare of our people that utilises not just modern medicine, but the ancient Māori approach of rongoa. It means making sure we are working hard to clean our waterways and look after the native creatures of this land, with whom we have a symbiotic relationship. All of these are things that we are still struggling to achieve, but they are important for success.

In 2017 we are still demonising Māori parents who choose to teach their kids Te Reo Māori first, and fighting about who owns the land (I’m looking @ you Sir Peter Leitch). Until we reconcile issues such as those presented by the Treaty, we will not be able to proceed as a truly ‘bi-cultural’ nation.

Waitangi Day for me is a day to rest, and to remind myself of why we must continue to work towards a better future. I hope that New Zealanders will use this Waitangi Day as an opportunity to kōrero Māori, and learn about our history as a nation.

Maybe, with reflection and a willingness to discuss together, we can begin to understand Aotearoa through the lens of intent that fuelled The Treaty of Waitangi; a bond of comradeship between people.

We have a little way to go yet though.   


  • Treaty of Waitangi /
  • Te Tiriti O Waitangi /
  • Waitangi /
  • Treaty /
  • Taongo /
  • Te Ao Maori /
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