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Story: Anti-racism and Treaty of Waitangi activism

In the 1960s New Zealanders subscribed to a belief in racial harmony, while passing legislation to confiscate Māori-owned land. But since the 1980s governments have acknowledged racial injustices. As ethnic diversity has increased, new forms of racism have been confronted.

Story by Robert Consedine
Main image: Treaty of Waitangi protest

Story Summary

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Treaty of Waitangi

When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 there was a worldwide movement to abolish slavery. People had seen the negative effect of colonisation on the indigenous people of countries like Australia. Colonists believed the treaty was fair because it offered Māori the rights of British citizens.

From the late 1840s chiefs protested to Queen Victoria about breaches of the treaty. Some Pākehā took sides with Māori and were known as ‘philo-Māori’.

Racism in sport

Rugby is the national game of both New Zealand and South Africa. Teams in South Africa were selected on the basis of race – the country had an apartheid system which segregated races.

When South Africa’s Springbok team toured New Zealand in 1921 they played an all-Māori team. People in South Africa were angry. When the All Blacks toured South Africa in 1928 all Māori players were excluded, even outstanding All Black George Nēpia.

New Zealanders began protesting against racism in sport. In 1959 the Citizens' All Black Tour Association was set up to oppose another All Black tour of South Africa. Their slogan was ‘No Maoris, no tour’.

Racial equality

Many Pākehā New Zealanders believed New Zealand had ideal race relations. But discrimination against Māori was widespread.

The Citizens Association for Racial Equality (CARE) began in 1964. They protested about an all-white All Black tour planned for 1967, and also opposed the confiscation of Māori land.


Māori set up their own human rights groups. Ngā Tamatoa campaigned about Māori land, Māori language and breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1975 there was a big march (hīkoi) to protest the loss of Māori land.

Police dawn raids on the homes of Pacific Islanders whose temporary work permits had expired led to protests by Ngā Tamatoa, the Polynesian Panthers, trade unions and other groups. People highlighted racism in the police, the court system and in government institutions.

1981 Springbok tour

Many anti-racist groups joined to protest against the Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981. More than 1,500 people were charged with protest offences.

Waitangi Tribunal

From 1985 the Waitangi Tribunal was able to investigate breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Crown from 1840. The treaty became entrenched in New Zealand law following a Court of Appeal ruling that treaty principles applied in the present day.

Human rights

In 2001 the office of the Race Relations Conciliator merged with the Human Rights Commission. The commission investigates complaints of discrimination, including in education, accommodation and employment.

Cultural diversity

Migrations from Polynesia from the 1960s and Asia in the 1990s and early 21st century, together with the arrival of refugees from around the world, have made New Zealand a culturally diverse country. New forms of racism such as prejudice against new migrants pose new anti-racist challenges.

How to cite this page:

Robert Consedine, 'Anti-racism and Treaty of Waitangi activism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 February 2018)

Story by Robert Consedine, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017