Past, present & future of the Waitangi Tribunal

History of the Waitangi Tribunal

The Waitangi Tribunal was established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.

Since the Treaty was signed in 1840, Māori have made many complaints to the Crown that the terms of the Treaty were not being upheld. Often these petitions and protests fell on deaf ears. In 1877, one judge said the Treaty was a ‘legal nullity’. In the 1970s, Māori protest about unresolved Treaty grievances was increasing and sometimes taking place outside the law.

By establishing the Waitangi Tribunal, Parliament provided a legal process by which Māori Treaty claims could be investigated. Tribunal inquiries contribute to the resolution of Treaty claims and to the reconciliation of outstanding issues between Māori and the Crown.

Find out more about settling historical Treaty of Waitangi claims (external link)

The Tribunal has reported on many issues, from te reo Māori and the radio spectrum to fresh water, underground resources, and fisheries. Many of the recommendations contained in its reports have been implemented by governments. The reports have contributed to many initiatives and new institutions, including reo irirangi, Māori radio; Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission; and Te Māngai Pāho, the Māori Broadcasting Funding Agency.

At first, the Tribunal could only hear claims about current government actions. In 1985, Parliament allowed the Tribunal to investigate events dating back to 1840.

Many hundreds of historical claims were made. The Tribunal grouped these claims into districts, and researching and hearing claims in a specific area is known as a district inquiry. The district inquiry process is nearing completion, and in 2008 Parliament removed the Tribunal’s power to register new historical claims.

The Tribunal’s achievements

In 2015, the Waitangi Tribunal marked its 40th anniversary. The Tribunal had:

  • registered 2501 claims
  • fully or partly reported on 1028 claims
  • issued 123 final reports
  • issued district reports covering 79% of New Zealand’s land area.

Find out more in issue 69 of Te Manutukutuku, published to mark the tribunal’s 40th anniversary.

Te Manutukutuku issue 69 [PDF, 2.5 MB]

The Tribunal’s future

In 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal published its strategic direction for the period to 2025.

The Tribunal will:

  • respond to claims that require urgent attention
  • complete the final four district inquiries now in progress
  • hear the remaining historical claims concerning pre-1992 issues
  • hear most of the remaining contemporary (post-1992) claims
  • substantially complete kaupapa inquiries.

The Tribunal is now grouping claims that raise kaupapa (generic) issues into broad thematic inquiries. The first of these kaupapa inquiries, addressing issues faced by war veterans, is now under way.

Find out more about types of Tribunal inquiries

Find out more about the Tribunal’s strategic direction [PDF, 16 MB]

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