The Treaty of Waitangi: A Framework for Maori Health Development

Article excerpt


The Treaty of Waitangi is often described as New Zealand's founding document. However, and since its first signing on 6 February 1840, confusion and debate has often surrounded its interpretation and application, its value as an historical manuscript and its broader significance to the contemporary development of New Zealand. While there is unlikely to be any clear consensus on the application of the Treaty of Waitangi or what its original intent may have been, this paper considers the relationship between the Treaty and Maori health. How Maori health issues fundamentally informed the shape and design of the Treaty, how these connections have gradually been lost, but how it may provide a framework for contemporary Maori health development.

Key words

Maori health, Treaty of Waitangi

Kingi, T R. (2007). The Treaty of Waitangi: A framework for Maori health development. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54(1), 4-10


In considering Maori health issues and how therapists might better engage Maori clients and the Maori community I decided to frame the issues within the broader context of the Treaty of Waitangi. Using the Treaty as a framework for any type of discussion or dialogue presents many challenges and indeed opinions and ideas on the Treaty are often formed even before discussions take place. The unfortunate reality, however, is that our views on the Treaty are often informed by the media or even worse through political debate. And, as a consequence, broad understandings of the Treaty and Treaty related issues are not always derived from an informed base.

Regardless of these concerns, there is some general agreement that the Treaty holds some special significance--as the founding document of our country and as an agreement which formalised the initial relationship between Maori and the Crown. Signed on the 6th of February 1840 the Treaty was made up of five parts, a pre-amble, three articles, and a post-script (all translated from English into Maori). The Treaty of Waitangi was essentially a treaty of cessation and as such resulted in a transfer of sovereignty (or absolute control) from Maori to the British Crown (Orange, 1987). While the Maori version of the Treaty placed some restrictions on this notion of sovereignty, the Treaty nevertheless facilitated British rule, colonisation, and the establishment of British systems of governance, land tenure, law, and social development. In effect, it legitimised Crown intervention and therefore permitted the creation of many of the Western institutions and structures we now take for granted.

Insofar as the Treaty facilitated Crown intervention, it was also, and perhaps more fundamentally, an exchange. Indeed these transfers of authority were not unconditional in that the expectations of Maori at the time were quite considerable. There is of course some debate as to whether or not Maori actually understood the Treaty and what was being negotiated. The Treaty itself was poorly translated and even less well explained. In the Maori version of the Treaty the idea of sovereignty (for example) was interpreted as governorship and meant that those who signed it not only anticipated crown management but also some form of Maori control. As well, there was a broader expectation, that in exchange for Maori signatures, the interest of Maori would also be protected in order to make good the agreement (Durie, 1998).

The extent to which these Treaty based exchanges have been met has been the subject of some considerable debate and from the outset. The obligations agreed to by Maori (and more) have largely been met. However, there is less agreement on the extent to which the Crown has matched these, whether or not mechanisms for Maori self-governance have been made, and the level to which Maori interests have been protected.

Putting aside the multiple interpretations of the Treaty, the position advanced within this paper is that a fundamental intent of the Treaty was centred around a desire to promote and protect Maori health. …


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