The Salt Shaker Letter #70: The Trouble with the Treaty of Waitangi



 The Salt Shaker Letter No.70                              September 2006



The Trouble with the Treaty





13A Eltham Rd.,


Auckland 5 N.Z.

Phone 5289831

Fax 5289841


The trouble with the Treaty of Waitangi is that it was conceived  in the ethos of a Christian world view by the colonial office and the  missionaries and also signed by the Maori chiefs on that basis. That fact is ignored by a secular government and  non-believing Maori when the question is asked “ What is the spirit of the Treaty?”.


The Tribunal is making an honest attempt to remedy the breaches of the Spirit of the Treaty in terms of money and land. For most Maori it is a matter of mana (prestige, pride or self respect) and redress that is driven by the  spirit of utu, (pay-back, revenge, restoring the balance).  Mana and utu kept the Tribes fighting each other for centuries and unfortunately they are still deep-seated and highly regarded. The call for justice camouflages a deeply offended mana. Pride and pay-back are not confined to the Maori culture. They are universal as in Yugoslavia and Ireland in recent times and among the clans of Scotland in earlier years. There are injustices that must be remedied, but using the Treaty to satisfy Mana and Utu is not in the Spirit of the Treaty.



Those roots are found in British colonial policy, reformed by men whose worldview had been transformed by the Wesleyan revival in Britain in the early 19th century. Previously Britain had subjugated coLonised peoples such as the Indians, Africans and North Americans. The Treaty of Waitangi was the forerunner of the reformed  policy whereby  indigenous people were given equality of British citizenship with the British settlers.  Although most New Zealanders are aware that the Treaty of Waitangi was unique, in that it was the first such treaty, few appear to understand that it was rooted in the Great Evangelical Awakening of the early 19th century, when many British leaders had been transformed. Wilberforce fought against slavery, Lord Teignmouth, was responsible for allowing Missionaries to work in India and Shaftsbury introduced legislation to improve conditions in the factories of the industrial revolution. The undersecretary for the Colonies, James Stephen and the Colonial Secretary, Lord Dartmouth, had both become keen evangelicals and were friends of Wesley. As a result of their influence the colonial policy was drastically reformed with the object of treating the indigenous people Christianly. It was the colonial Office that instructed Capt. Hobson to formulate a treaty with the Maori chiefs in this spirit.


The Anglican CMS missionaries who arrived in 1814, had also been influenced by the Awakening. The Maori tribes were viciously fighting each other with newly discovered muskets, in what became known as the musket wars. They were cannibals who enslaved members of other tribes, some of whom were eaten. When they discovered that traders would pay good money for tattooed heads, some tattooed their slaves, killed them and sold the heads. There was precious little Arohanui. The isthmus on which Auckland was built had been heavily populated, but when the missionaries visited there, it was completely devoid of human habitation. The local Ngati Whatua tribe had fled from the Ngapuhi tribe to the protection  of the Tainui chief, Te Whero Whero at Ngaruawahia.


The missionaries successfully stopped the fighting and  thousands welcomed  the Christian gospel some years before Capt Hobson arrived to propose the treaty.  Peace reigned throughout the land. It was with these converted Maoris that Hobson was able to negotiate. The Treaty could not have been achieved without the remarkable work of those missionaries, who would determinedly go to where a fight was to take place and stand between the warring tribes. Some modern historians who are trying to rewrite history are committing a gross injustice by disparaging those missionaries.


Unfortunately many settlers and some governors who cared little for the new Christian policies of the Colonial office, treated the Maoris the same as other indigenous people had been treated and confiscated land that the Treaty had promised would not be taken. When some of the Tribes who had become Christian complained and took non-violent action such as removing the survey pegs, they were attacked by soldiers and police and jailed.  War ensued and the lands remained confiscated.


Bewilderment and confusion reigned among the Maoris who had expected that all the British would be Christian like the missionaries.  When they discovered that the government was not on their side, an attempt was made to create unity under an elected Maori King, Te Whero Whero, of the powerful Tainui tribe in the Waikato.


However, twenty years after the signing of the Treaty, there was still a lot of goodwill towards the British, based on their new Christian faith. In 1860,  Governor Gore-Browne  called a large meeting of chiefs to discover what their attitude was.  This is an extract from Donald McLean’s speech   ..….Christian principles have ruled the conduct of the British government in these islands. The policy pursued has been one of uniform kindness and in accordance with the precepts of Christianity”.           


The following quotes are typical of the responses made by 46 of those gathered chiefs.

Paora Tuhaere of Ngati Whatua, Auckland“ The Pakeha have their councils and the Maori have their separate councils, but this is wrong. Evil results from these councils not being one. I am desirous that the minds of the Europeans and the Maori should be brought into unison with each other”….. the benefits we received from the governor are Christianity and the law.

Ihakara Tokanui : Manawatu “ In former times the evil that prevailed in this land was war: now the gospel has been received………when Christianity came, then for the first time were made manifest the good things of the Pakeha and the evil things of the Maori”.

Parawhau ; Whangarei. “ It was the Pakeha that planted love among us, (referring to the former exterminating wars carried out by the Ngapuh, of which he was a chief.


No wonder they were confused and disillusioned by the subsequent  behaviour of the government. A fuller account of that meeting can be found at, in the Salt Shaker Letter No. 44 November 2004 


Although the Maori tribes still have a genuine grievance because of mistreatment, and rightly call for a recognition of the Treaty, we all need to recognise that their right of redress only exists because the treaty was framed in the ethos of a Christian worldview. Before 1840  the Colonial policy of conquest would have given them no such rights nor would they have had any such rights under their own Maori culture. When one Maori tribe conquered another there was no saying, “This is not fair”. Might was right.


Can reconciliation be affected by people who do not understand what Parawhau was talking about and that the origin of love is not found in laws, but in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? The Love of God is not a matter of private personal concern only, it is also the basis for community and national relationships. Another sixty five years after that 1860 meeting, Ratana, an ardent supporter of the Treaty, was approached to engage in politics for the Treaty to be recognised and breaches redressed.

His reply was, ”The Bible first, then the Treaty”. He was right.  What a tragedy he was not heeded.  Separation of church and state does not mean that biblical principles are of no value. It was Christianity that was responsible for the Treaty. That is a historical fact. It is time that both Maori and Pakeha recognised that a successful conclusion to negotiations calls for a recognition of the roots of the Treaty, otherwise it is not a basis for negotiations.  Mana and utu have no place in that Treaty, but they will dominate relationships far into the future unless the true spirit of the treaty is recognised.





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