Today New Zealand celebrates the 181st anniversary of the signing of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatira o Nu Tireni - New Zealand's Declaration of Independence by the Confederation of Chiefs in Waitangi.
The Declaration/He Whakaputanga, signed at Waitangi on 28 October 1835 by 35 northern rangatira, affirmed the sovereignty that existed and provided the basis for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi just over four years later.
Through the declaration of independence, the Māori leaders established themselves as representatives of New Zealand under the title “United Tribes of New Zealand.
British Resident Busby saw it as a significant mark of Māori national identity. The 35 signatories declared that all power and authority resided with the hereditary rangatira who agreed to act collectively. A copy of the document went to King William IV of England asking him to act as protector of the new state.
What is interesting about this is that it is part of our journey towards properly upholding the rights of Aotearoa’s indigenous people.
The significance of these two documents has been recently examined by the Waitangi Tribunal in its report, He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti – The Declaration and the Treaty. The 2014 report, on the first stage of the Northern District Inquiry – Te Paparahi o te Raki, examines the meaning of the Declaration and the Treaty to those who signed them. The second stage of the Tribunal’s inquiry will look further at what the Treaty means today.
The Tribunal concluded that he Whakaputanga was an unambiguous declaration of Māori sovereignty and independence. The Tribunal also found that:
‘The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain... That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories.’ Rather their intention was ‘to share power and authority with Britain’.
The Tribunal’s first stage report and ongoing inquiry provide a major contribution to our understanding of the Treaty, and to ongoing discussion about what it means for all of us in Aotearoa New Zealand today.
According to Indigenous Rights Commissioner Karen Johansen, another landmark human rights document, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (or ‘UNDRIP’), provides important guidance for how the rights and responsibilities inherent in our Treaty and Declaration are to be given effect today.
The UNDRIP, adopted by the United Nations in 2007, affirms that indigenous peoples have all human rights and explains how these apply in the particular circumstances of indigenous peoples. It contains 46 articles that cover all areas of human rights, including:
- Equality and non-discrimination
- Participation, underpinned by free, prior, informed consent
- Culture Land, territories and resources.
The UNDRIP also deals with the relationship between indigenous peoples and states. It aims to “enhance harmonious and cooperative relations between the State and Indigenous Peoples, based on principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith”.