This Tuesday, 28 October New Zealand celebrates 179 years since the signing of the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand. The declaration was signed in 1835 by 35 Rangatira (maori leaders) and four British Residents.
This declaration states the sovereignty (Te mana i te whenua) that existed in 1835 and was designed to promote and protect the rights of Māori. It document provided a portal for the Treaty of Waitangi negotiations.
Through the declaration of independence the leaders of the indigenous people 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.
In 2010 the New Zealand Government adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP reflects and elaborates on the provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples and have all the human rights that everyone has – including the right to self determination; the right to be free from discrimination; the right to be respected as distinct peoples. It advocates for collective as well as individual rights.
Historical injustices, including through colonisation and the loss of lands and resources, have prevented indigenous peoples from fully exercising all of their rights. Therefore, there is an urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.
UNDRIP offers assistance to better ensure indigenous peoples are able to fully enjoy their rights, and to strengthen the relationship between States and indigenous peoples: The Declaration is a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect.
At the end of September, the UN held a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to reiterate the role states play in promoting and protecting indigenous rights.
The conference adopted a document that committed member states to actively promoting the UNDRIP through a number of actions obtaining free, prior and informed consent before adopting policies and legislation that affect indigenous peoples; taking effective measures to ensure equality for indigenous women, youth, elderly and disabled persons in areas such as health, education and housing.
These are steps towards giving effect to the NZ Declaration of Independence that was made in 1835.
Learn more about UNDRIP and the Treaty of Waitangi in our Indigenous Rights section.