Story: Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti

In the late 20th century judges, the government and the Waitangi Tribunal began to hammer out the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The treaty is deemed to bind Māori and Pākehā New Zealanders in a partnership in which they must act reasonably and with utmost good faith.

Story by Janine Hayward
Main image: Pōwhiri during foreshore and seabed consultation

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Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Māori and the British Crown. The Waitangi Tribunal was established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. This was the first law to refer to the principles of the treaty. At first these were not defined. But through court cases, new laws, Waitangi Tribunal findings and a 1989 government statement, the meaning of the treaty to contemporary New Zealand society has been outlined.

The treaty text itself is not regarded as a law because:

  • the English and Māori versions do not have exactly the same meaning
  • it focuses on the issues relevant at the time it was signed.

Instead, the intentions and goals of the treaty are taken into account.


Treaty principles include:

  • The treaty set up a partnership, and the partners have a duty to act reasonably and in good faith.
  • The Crown has freedom to govern.
  • The Crown has a duty to actively protect Māori interests.
  • The Crown has a duty to remedy past breaches.
  • Māori retain rangatiratanga over their resources and taonga and have all the rights and privileges of citizenship.
  • The Crown has a duty to consult with Māori.
  • The needs of both Māori and the wider community must be met, which will require compromise.
  • The Crown cannot avoid its obligations under the treaty by conferring authority on some other body.
  • The treaty can be adapted to meet new circumstances.
  • Tino rangatiratanga includes management of resources and other taonga according to Māori culture.
  • Taonga include all valued resources and intangible cultural assets.
How to cite this page:

Janine Hayward, 'Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 October 2022)

Story by Janine Hayward, published 20 Jun 2012