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

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 of Waitangi. The treaty is deemed to bind Māori and the Crown in a partnership in which both must act reasonably and with the utmost good faith.

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

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Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Māori rangatira 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. These principles were not defined in the legislation. But through court cases, new laws, Waitangi Tribunal findings and a 1989 government statement, the meaning of the principles of the treaty in contemporary New Zealand society has continued to be outlined.

The treaty text itself is not law. Instead, the intentions and goals of the treaty are taken into account through the principles of the Treaty. Some people have suggested that this is a better idea because:

  • The English and te reo Māori versions do not have exactly the same meaning and this may lead to uncertainty about which version to use.
  • The treaty focuses on the issues relevant at the time it was signed and it is better to think about the spirit of the agreement and how it can be implemented today.
  • It could diminish the mana of the treaty to make it law – it should sit above the law.


Treaty principles are always evolving to suit changing beliefs and circumstances. They 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 treaty 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.
  • The management of resources and other taonga according to Māori culture as part of tino rangatiratanga.
  • 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 o Waitangi', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

Story by Janine Hayward, published 20 June 2012, reviewed & revised 16 January 2023 with assistance from Janine Hayward