Below is the English text of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the Māori and British Crown in New Zealand in 1840. The Treaty also has a Māori version which was agreed to and signed simultaneously with the agreement below. The Māori version (available here) is just as definitive as the English version, and is also important for knowing what the Māori believed they were agreeing to.
There are apparent differences and different emphases in the two versions. The English version of the preamble promises to protect the “just Rights and Property” of the “Native Chiefs and Tribes” whereas the Māori text promises to secure tribal rangatiratanga—tribal authority over their own areas—and Māori land rights for as long as they wanted it.
The first article in the English text asserts British “sovereignty” over the territory, a concept with no equivalence in Māori culture. Tribes were self-governing, without overlords or sovereigns. The word used to convey the concept in the Māori text, kawanatanga, was interpreted by the Māori to mean that tribes retained the right to manage their own affairs, with some authority ceded to the British in return for government protection.
The second article in English guarantees the Māori “the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession,” and assigned to the British Crown the exclusive right to buy the land, if the Māori wished to sell it. The Māori text is less clear about this exclusive right to purchase (which is essentially the same legal regime as was enshrined in the The Royal Proclamation, 1763 and in Canada’s Indian Act.) The second article in the Māori text uses the phrase ‘te tino rangatiratanga’—the unqualified right of tribal sovereignty over their lands, villages, and other property—a notion that goes well beyond mere property rights.
There is little disagreement between the English and Māori texts of the third article.
Whatever the differences between the two versions, together they make a single treaty. Interpretation of it in the modern day has been placed in the hands of Waitangi Tribunal.
THE TREATY OF WAITANGI, 1840
HER MAJESTY VICTORIA Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland regarding with Her Royal Favor the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order has deemed it necessary in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty’s Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorised to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands – Her Majesty therefore being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorise me William Hobson a Captain in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be or hereafter shall be ceded to her Majesty to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.
Article the first
The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.
Article the second
Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.
Article the third
In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.
William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor.
Now therefore We the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand being assembled in Congress at Victoria in Waitangi and We the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified. Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.