Treaty Signatories Did Not Cede Sovereignty in February 1840 – Tribunal

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The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, the Waitangi Tribunal has concluded.

The Tribunal released its report on stage 1 of its inquiry into Te Paparahi o te Raki (the great land of the north) Treaty claims.

The report concerns the ‘meaning and effect’ of the Treaty in February 1840, when the first signings of te Tiriti took place in the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga. Stage 2 of the inquiry, which is under way, will consider events after February 1840.

‘Though Britain went into the treaty negotiation intending to acquire sovereignty, and therefore the power to make and enforce law over both Māori and Pākehā, it did not explain this to the rangatira’, the Tribunal said.

Rather, Britain’s representative William Hobson and his agents explained the Treaty as granting Britain ‘the power to control British subjects and thereby to protect Māori’, while rangatira were told that they would retain their ‘tino rangatiratanga’, their independence and full chiefly authority.

‘The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain’, the Tribunal concluded. ‘That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories.’

The rangatira did, however, agree ‘to share power and authority with Britain’.

‘They agreed to the Governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand, and thereby keep the peace and protect Māori interests’, the Tribunal said.

‘The rangatira consented to the treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence. The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Māori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.’

The Tribunal said that, having considered all of the evidence available to it, the conclusion that Māori did not cede sovereignty in February 1840 was inescapable.

The Tribunal said nothing about how and when the Crown acquired the sovereignty that it exercises today. However, it said, the Crown ‘did not acquire that sovereignty through an informed cession by the rangatira who signed te Tiriti at Waitangi, Waimate, and Mangungu’.

The question of whether the agreement that was reached in February 1840 was honoured in subsequent interactions between the Crown and Māori will be considered during stage 2 of the inquiry.

For the Ngāpuhi interpretation of events, the independent report Ngāpuhi speaks is an excellent resource.

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