Story: Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty of Waitangi

Centenary of the treaty signing, 1940

The centenary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) on 6 February 1940 was celebrated by events around the country. While the government used the occasion to emphasis a century of European progress, Māori contributions were relegated to the periphery. Some prominent Māori leaders, such as Waikato leader Te Puea Hērangi and Kīngi Korokī, the Māori king, chose to boycott these celebrations because of unresolved grievances over land confiscated in the 1860s.

At Waitangi, there was an elaborate re-enactment of te Tiriti signing ceremony, and a new national wharenui, Te Whare Rūnanga, was opened on the Treaty grounds. One of the dignitaries to speak at this ceremony was Māori MP Sir Apirana Ngata (Ngāti Porou). In this extract, Ngata describes the importance of Te Whare Rūnanga in representing the role of Māori within Treaty history. Despite Māori unease over historic losses of land and mana, Ngata reaffirms Māori commitment to the British Empire during the Second World War. Looking toward the future, Ngata encourages Pākehā to recognise the uniqueness of the Māori people and their culture.

A transcript of the speech can be found below.

The meeting house represents the completion, the embodiment of a desire of the Māori people to not be divorced from the Waitangi, where Māori and Pākehā concluded the Treaty 100 years ago. And you will find a tablet in the building saying that on the 6th day of February the year 1840 when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed that I the Māori also were there.

If only the Busby house stood to represent the historical facts of the signing of the Treaty, I think there would have been something wanting. People would have asked, ‘what represents the Māori who was the other party to the agreement?’ The meeting house represents the part the Māori of a hundred years ago, and Your Excellency, I hope the building will represent the Māori race at Waitangi for hundreds of years to come. We desired to express our appreciation that the government has made it possible for the Māori race to take part in the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. We thank the government of New Zealand for making that possible.

Where are we today? I don’t know of any year that the Māori people approached with so much misgiving as the New Zealand centennial year. In the retrospect, what did the Māori see? Land gone. The powers of the chiefs humbled in dust. Māori culture scattered, broken. What remains at the end of the one hundred years of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed one hundred years ago Your Excellency? What remains of all the fine things back then? The outstanding facts in the pageantry this morning was the recounting of, on the one side, the misapprehension of the Māori people as to what it was all going to lead to. And the desire of the section, which ultimately predominated and brought about the signing of the agreement, that they couldn’t retrace their steps to the pa. The Pākehā had made his home in New Zealand. The Māori had to accept the Pākehā and make the best of it.

What remains of the Treaty of Waitangi? What is there in the Treaty that the Māori can today celebrate wholeheartedly with you? Let me say one thing. Clause One of the Treaty handed over the mana and sovereignty of New Zealand to Queen Victoria and her descendants forever. That is the outstanding fact today. That but for the shield of the sovereignty handed over to Her Majesty and her descendants, I doubt whether there would be a free Māori race in New Zealand today. Our acknowledgement of that outstanding fact in the history of the one hundred years is we offer up the youth, the very flower of our race, to stand side by side with you in the Empire’s fight. If, Your Excellency, that means the obtaining of the full manhood of the Māori race, well we can then accept the war as our opportunity of making good with you as joint citizens in the British Empire.

Having said that, there’s a lot in a hundred years but there isn’t time, nor is there the mood today, to say anything that would disturb the harmony between the two races. Let me acknowledge further that in the whole of the world I doubt whether any native race has been so well treated by a European people as the Māori in New Zealand.

But there still remains the thing called the spirit of the Māori people. We want to remain part, but a distinct and indelible part, of the future inhabitants of this country. The message of the Māori race to you is – we want to retain our individuality as a race. If judged by your standards we fall short, try and look it from the Māori standpoint. So long as we are happy, does it matter very much whether we square up with the Pākehā standards or not? Are they so very good that we should square up to them? Let us achieve health, comfort, happiness. We are well on the way to that now thanks to the quality of the government in New Zealand. But while you help us, please remember that a lot of the things you do for us would appear to be for our betterment but they contain with them dynamic forces that somehow or other shatter the Māori culture that we wish to retain as the foundation of our individuality as a people.

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Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
Reference: 36195 Treaty of Waitangi Centenary Celebrations - The Opening of the New Meeting House. 1940

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How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty of Waitangi - Implementing te tiriti – 1900 to 1940', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 December 2023)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 28 Mar 2023 with assistance from Claudia Orange