The Treaty of Waitangi

Why we should Disregard It in business

And it's not for the reasons you're probably thinking right now.

Three years ago I wrote a post based on my experience as a specialist in impact business, about the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi in business.  It's been one of my highest performing pages, I get hundreds of views on that single webpage every week.  But I got some things very wrong in that original post.   

While I've updated the original a couple of times, I also think it's important to leave some learning online for others so rather than continue to edit the original post to correct the inaccuracies as I learn more, it's time to create a new post to reflect where I'm at on my learning duty as tangati Tiriti. 

The Treaty of Waitangi is a bone of contention in Aotearoa. For many, the perception of unfairness reigns supreme.  On one side of the political equation (and, it is political) is the perception of mistreatment and misappropriation by successive governments, while on the other there is the perception of handouts and entitlement from people that are getting more than their fair share.

Much of this comes down to a lack of understanding and education, and in the world of instant information gratification, there isn't an easy fix to this.  But, as with anything, the best place to change that is with ourselves. 

Here's what I wish someone had told me much earlier.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the version that matters.

And that's not just in business.  That's across all spheres of life in Aotearoa.


  1. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is THE document that was signed at Waitangi

That's it.  It really is that simple.

Look, I could go into all kinds of debate about whether the English version was written before or after the reo Māori version, and whether the translations were literal or we're all bloody misinterpreting it, but the facts are that these things have already been debated for decades by countless scholars and politicians before us.  

Legislation resulting from te Tiriti o Waitangi has been written, breached, interpreted, breached, rewritten, and reinterpreted in many different ways by many people far more qualified than you or I.  

The key point is that the English version we're all used to reading and referencing was not the version that was agreed to in writing by those Rangatira Māori that signed on behalf of their people.  That version is the one we should be upholding, not the interpreted version (or its many interpretations).  And that is especially true where there is ambiguity - on any level.

The document that was put in front of Māori is the document that was signed. That document is te Tiriti o Waitangi - the treaty in reo Māori. It was signed on 6 February 1840 and is the only version that was signed on that date.  

There were many versions of the Treaty that were distributed in days following, in reo Māori and in English, but 92% of the signatures by Rangatira Māori were on the reo Māori text. 

There are decades of discussion, interpretation and analysis over the text of both documents and the meaning of wording.   One can always cherry-pick for the information to support their point of view.

Populist politics are always going to divide people, especially when one group perceives inequality arising from "special treatment".  

The only way to address this is to strip it back to basics and seek to understand.  Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

The reality of being tāngata Tiriti in Aotearoa, is we are here because of early settlers that colonised this country en masse.  Our predecessors were not invited to move in, it was self-invitation and at the expense of people that had their own systems of law and governance in place.  

Almost our entire history has been taught from a colonial viewpoint.  Memorial plaques, statues, parks and reserves, school curriculum, history books, place names, wars.  The vast majority are from the perspective of colonialism.

But, I'm getting off track.... If you're someone open to learning more then I highly recommend reading any book by Vincent O'Malley - especially "He reo nō ngā pakanga o Aotearoa - Voices from the New Zealand Wars".

Understanding constitutional history

One thing few New Zealanders know is that our country had an earlier consitutional document than te Tiriti.  There are iwi that did not sign te Tiriti o Waitangi because they had already acceded to He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni: the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand.  

He Whakaputanga (o Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni) was a legal and constitutional precedent for Te Tiriti o Waitangi (*Moana Jackson, 2010: Wai1040).

Understanding He Whakaputanga is a step towards understanding Te Tiriti.   

Whats the point of either document?

Setting aside the imperial desire of the British to cement power, the arrival of settlors created disruption that needed to be managed.  At the most basic level, an agreement was drafted on behalf of the British Crown and signed by indigenous representatives that agreed the British Monarchy would manage the relationships between these settlers and the indigenous people.   

The articles that exist are clear, but the interpretations over the language and meanings are what muddy the story.  

In part this is because language evolves - none of us speak in the manner of two centuries prior - but the rest is because we have been sold a version of events that does not favour our feelings in unlearning it. 

Unlearning is a path to growth.

True story.  And if you're successful in business you shouldn't need convincing of this fact.  Your continued success is because of your ability to learn and evolve - and each of those things require your ability to unlearn what you previously knew.

One thing I will never waiver upon.

In order to do better, we need to know better.  The only way that we can choose to do this is by first liberating our heart.  Kia hohou ki te ngākau.
No matter what you may have heard, business IS personal.  

You can choose to disagree with me, but first think about why your business exists and what your business values are.  Because, I would tentatively bet money on the fact that those have their origins in your personal life. 

Business isn't just personal because of you though.  Its personal because, no matter what your business is, it is people centric.  It requires people to operate it (yes, even automated businesses require the human factor to programme and maintain) and it sells to other people.  That's true whether you sell direct to customers or to businesses: B2B still involves people making decisions about the transactions.

Now here is where things get uncomfortable.

In order to grow,  you need to challenge what you already know.  Thats not just true about business, that's true about our history and your personal story of your place within it.

You can choose to stick doggedly to what you learned in school, or you can make like a scientist and question everything you know on a daily basis.

The latter will take you on a learning journey that can be a source of discomfort.  That can cause people to abandon their actions, no matter how good their intent.  

The one thing I want you to know is that in spite of how you feel, no matter how many mistakes you may uncover or make along the way, you will be fine.  Your pride may be bruised, but bruises heal.  From discomfort comes strength.

What te Tiriti o Waitangi means for business

Te Tiriti o Waitangi set in place a framework that outlines the relationship to exist between Tāngata Whenua (Māori) and Tāngata Tiriti (all those non-Māori that settled here after).  The establishment of this agreement created a bicultural nation.

The migration of many people from various places and spaces across the globe have further developed our nation into a multicultural society.  

Te Tiriti is not a complicated document to understand.  

  • Article one enabled the British Monarchy to establish its own laws to rule the settlors in order to maintain order, alongside Māori managing their own people.  Kāwanatanga: The right to govern.
  • Article two outlined that Māori would retain possession over everything they valued (lands, forests, fisheries, anything considered taonga - treasure, including intangible things such as language and knowledge), and it provided for the exclusive right of the British Monarchy to purchase any land that Māori chose to sell. Tino Rangatiratanga: Retention of Sovereignty
  • Article three provided for Māori to have all the rights and privileges (such as protection) from the British Monarchy as British subjects would. Equal rights and privileges.

But what does that mean in business?

Toitū te Tiriti.  Honour the treaty.

That means many things to many people.  But in the most simplistic of views, honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi means honouring Māori. 

In business that means the same as it should in everyday life for anyone that is tāngata Tiriti:  Understanding that cultural responsibility is key to being a good treaty partner.  

What does that mean in practice?

  • Listen and learn.  Listening is one of the most powerful tools we can wield in any space.  
  • Consult with Māori where it is appropriate to.  If you're unsure, ask.  There are many different resources available, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori - Māori Language Commission is a great place to start.
  • Honour the language.  That doesn't mean writing everything in te reo Māori. It definitely doesn't mean plucking a name out of the Māori dictionary and using it for your business (or products).  It means appreciation vs appropriation.  

    If you're uncertain about the difference, consider this:  Keeping a language alive by using greetings in your communication, or committing to learning and using it in daily conversation, (appreciation) is a beautiful thing to do.  Taking that language for your own use to profit by, is dispossession and that is appropriation.
  • Honour te ao Māori. Learn about traditions, about tikanga.  For example, consider whether it is appropriate to implement karakia into your workplace practices (but not to automatically delegate this to anyone that identifies as Māori).  Taking this step will empower you to understand that this has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a cultural practice of acknowledging respect for past and present, places and spaces.

Cultural responsibility doesn't mean reinventing your business. It means being intentional about understanding the many different facets of humanity and creating an inclusive environment for people to be wholly themselves.   

From a tāngati tiriti viewpoint, that's about understanding that being Māori isn't a physical characteristic but an embodiment of generational ties to people and places.  

That means different things to different people, and there is not a one-size-fits-all response to this.  What you can do that is universal, is show respect for differences and empower people to bring their whole identity into your business space and feel as if they belong.