Section 5 : What the Treaty means today

Living Side by Side

The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of our country.

Maori agreed:

  • to let other people live in their country; and
  • to let the British make rules about behaviour and see that everyone obeys them.

The British agreed:

  • to let Māori keep control of their own lives; and
  • that Māori would have the same rights as all other people in Aotearoa.


School childrenRespect means that you treat other people with consideration. Respect does not mean that you have to be the same, like the same foods, or enjoy the same activities.

The Treaty was a contract of respect between the British and Māori. Today, there are a lot of people living here whose families are not from Britain. The Treaty now means there must be respect between Māori and non-Māori.

It is important that the laws and rules today consider and respect both Māori and non-Māori ways of living. It is important that Māori and non-Māori who live near each other are considerate of each other and respect each other's differences.


A contract will work only if both groups who sign it trust that the other group will do what the contract says they will do.

The Māori who signed the Treaty trusted that the British would make laws that would be good for both them and the settlers. Unfortunately, as we have seen from what happened in Taranaki, the laws were often good for the Government and for the settlers, but not for Māori.

The Waitangi Tribunal

Ever since the Treaty was signed, Māori have been going to the Government, both here and in Britain, to talk about honouring the Treaty contract. Now, we have the Waitangi Tribunal. The Tribunal studies Treaty claims about what the Government did in the past that was not good for Māori. Claims can also be made about what the Government is doing right now. The Waitangi Tribunal claims are not only about land. Māori have made claims about the Government allowing pollution of the sea, rivers, air, and land. They have made claims about fishing laws, the Māori language, and education.

After the Waitangi Tribunal has listened to the claim, it decides whether a government in the past, or the Government now, acted in a way that broke a promise given in the Treaty. If the Waitangi Tribunal decides that the Government broke a Treaty promise, it suggests to the Government how it could put things right. In some cases, the Government has to do what the Waitangi Tribunal suggests.

How to Put Right the Wrongs

The Government, Māori, and the Waitangi Tribunal are trying to put right the wrongs that have happened as a result of Treaty promises being broken. They are trying to build a better future for Māori and trying to create better understanding between Māori and Pakeha.

A lot of the land that was wrongly taken from Māori is now owned by non-Māori. It would be just as bad to take that land from those people and give it back to Māori. The Government must talk with each iwi group that has a complaint concerning the Treaty. The Government and Māori must find a solution to the problem that will be fair for everyone, Māori and non-Māori.

Making Decisions Together

In the past, Māori were not treated as a partner with the Government, as the Treaty had promised. Now, the Government is trying to stop new problems arising between Māori and the Government by making sure that iwi are involved when laws and important decisions are made.

What the Treaty Means Today: Questions and Activities

This page was last updated: