Story: Treaty of Waitangi

Page 6. Implementing the treaty – 1900 to 1940

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Māori hopes rise

Despite the continuing sale of Māori land, relations between the government and Māori began to improve in the first decades of the 20th century. This gave Māori new hope that the government would respect their treaty rights.

An educated Māori elite increasingly participated in both the Māori and European worlds, and began to address Māori social problems. The most prominent member of this group was Apirana Ngata, member of Parliament for the Eastern Māori electorate from 1905 to 1943. In the 1920s Ngata introduced schemes to develop Māori land and consolidate fragmented land holdings. Māori farming ventures received government funding for the first time.

Settling grievances?

The 1920s saw some government moves to meet Māori grievances. In 1921 a Native Land Claims Commission upheld Ngāi Tahu’s land-claim grievances. In 1928 the Sim Commission validated many of the grievances of iwi whose lands had been confiscated following the wars of the 1860s. In both instances it was not until the 1940s that settlements, based on modest annual payments to trust boards, were arranged.

Restoring fishing rights

For many years Māori had tried without success to secure fishing rights of various kinds. In the early 1920s the government acknowledged Te Arawa iwi’s longstanding claims to traditional rights over lakes in the Rotorua region and agreed to pay compensation for the loss of fishing and burial rights in the lakes. In 1926 a similar agreement was reached with Ngāti Tuwharetoa over its rights in Lake Taupō and adjoining streams. These agreements raised Māori hopes about other treaty rights.

Rātana political movement

The Rātana Church, initially a prophetic movement, entered politics in the 1920s with the specific aim of securing treaty rights. It called for ratification (legal recognition) of the treaty. Until ratification was obtained, the Rātana Church said, the treaty could not be properly recognised and given effect.

The Rātana political movement formed an alliance with the Labour Party and its parliamentary candidates won all four Māori seats in the 1943 general election. For the next 30 years Rātana MPs maintained their goal of having the treaty recognised in law.

Gifting the Treaty House

Te Tiriti o Waitangi was largely ignored by European New Zealanders in the early 20th century, but it came to the forefront of public attention in 1932. In that year the governor-general, Lord Bledisloe, and his wife gifted to the nation James Busby’s house at Waitangi where the treaty had been signed, and land around it. A great hui at Te Tii marae in 1934 marked this gift. It also marked the 100th anniversary of the selection of the United Tribes’ Flag by northern Māori chiefs as the flag of an independent New Zealand.

Centennial celebrations, 1940

The government wanted a great demonstration of national pride and unity for the centennial of the signing of the treaty in 1940. Māori were less enthusiastic, since the government’s poor record on treaty rights rankled with many iwi. However, Apirana Ngata used the centennial celebrations to draw attention to the government’s performance on treaty promises, and to call on the government to settle grievances under the treaty.

A whare rūnanga (meeting house) was built at Waitangi, close to Busby’s Treaty House, and opened for the 1940 celebrations. The whare was specially carved and constructed under the supervision of Ngata, who saw it as a symbol of the two treaty partners standing together.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Treaty of Waitangi - Implementing the treaty – 1900 to 1940', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 March 2023)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 20 Jun 2012