According to its preamble, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in order to provide a government for New Zealand and to remove the cause for strife between Māori and non-Māori.
The first article says that the Māori chiefs “cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty”. The second article says, “Her Majesty the Queen confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and tribes of New Zealand ... the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries and other properties ...” The third article says that the Queen extends to Māori “all the rights and duties of British Subjects.” The Treaty was first signed at Waitangi, but many chiefs signed in other places.
There are differences in interpretation of the Treaty, caused partly by the signing of two official versions of it – in English (quoted above) and in Māori. For example, in the Māori version, the word kawanatanga was used as the translation of sovereignty, rather than rangitiratanga. This has led some to question what rights the Crown really gained from the Treaty.
However, the Privy Council said in 1994 that “with the passage of time, the principles which underlie the Treaty have become much more important than its precise terms”. They said the ‘principles’ are the underlying mutual obligations and responsibilities that the Treaty places on Māori and the Crown.
In its 1996 post-election brief Te Puni Kokiri told the coalition Government of the three basic principles it identified from court judgments of the 1990s:
Ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa hoki ki hai i uru ki taua wakaminenga ka tuku rawa atu ki te Kuini o Ingarani ake tonu atu–te Kawanatanga katoa o ratou wenua.
The Chiefs of the Confederation and all of the Chiefs who have not joined in that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England forever the complete government over their land.
Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangatira ki nga hapu–ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te Wenua–ki te ritenga o te utu e wakaritea ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei e te Kuini hei kai hoko mona.
The Queen of England agrees to protect the Chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, their villages, and all their treasures. But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the other Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at the price agreed by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent.
Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetanga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini– Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.
For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand, and will give them all the rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.
Signed by W Hobson, Consul and Lieutenant Governor, and between 520 and 530 Māori chiefs