The Treaty of Waitangi Information Unit

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document. Signed in 1840 by over 500 Māori chiefs and the British Crown, it was intended to underpin or reflect an agreement to embark on something wholly new, to create a nation-state in New Zealand where no functioning nation-state existed.

But from not long after it was signed the Treaty of Waitangi has been an issue of debate within New Zealand. From very early on Māori began to protest to Britain's representatives in New Zealand and to Queen Victoria herself, arguing that the Treaty's guarantees to Māori were not being honoured. However it was not until the 1980s that a process of "truth and reconciliation" began between the Crown and Maori, to address Crown breaches of the Treaty since 1840.

Within New Zealand there has been a wide range of views on the place of the Treaty within the life of the nation, and on the reconciliation process. What became clear, however, was that, despite considerable coverage in the mainstream media, the citizens of New Zealand did not have access to sound and balanced information on the history of the Treaty of Waitangi and the events surrounding it. The Treaty of Waitangi is recognised in over 60 Acts of the New Zealand Parliament, affecting the lives of most New Zealanders, and yet survey results had shown that there was little understanding of the document or its history.

In 2003 the New Zealand Government determined there was a need to increase understanding among the general public of New Zealand on the Treaty of Waitangi. This was not an attempt to change public attitudes, nor to promote a particular view of the Treaty's significance, but rather to provide information and resources whereby people could have an informed opinion. In doing so, the New Zealand public would have a better understanding of an important issue that confronts New Zealand today.

The Treaty of Waitangi Information Unit was established in the State Services Commission, and was fully underway in 2004. The Unit was mandated to coordinate existing resources on the Treaty and to develop new resources. The first project undertaken by the Unit was the development of a website - "Made in New Zealand - The Treaty of Waitangi" - that would provide accessible, balanced, easy to read, high quality information on the Treaty of Waitangi and the events surrounding it.

The best historians in the country were engaged to contribute to the content of the website, and although all history is contestable - and no more so in New Zealand than Treaty history - a high quality, balanced, easy to read and concise account was produced. The content of the website is the product of an extensive and rigorous process of quality assurance and the interweaving of many different perspectives on the history of the Treaty of Waitangi and the document itself, in order to make a high quality product that was accessible and understandable to all New Zealanders.

The content includes a full historical account "The Story of the Treaty" and also a shorter text for a quick read - a little over 1000 words. The website includes three case studies on the relationship between Māori and the Crown since the signing of the Treaty. These case studies also show the different ways in which Māori and the Crown have together settled the grievances arising from their shared history, in order to heal the past and put the Treaty relationship on a more hopeful footing.

The website contains a section on maps, which provides easy visual explanations of key events, including an animated map sequence showing the loss of Māori land from 1840 through to 2000.

An extensive section of quotations from individuals since 1840, and another section of short biographies of over 120 key people in Treaty history, all with accompanying images of the speakers, bring to life the history of the Treaty and what the people themselves were saying since the time of the Treaty signing.

The section entitled "Read the Treaty" contains the two texts of the Treaty, the English and Māori texts, in table form, including a table with a modern translation of the Māori text, to allow for a simple comparison between the two texts. This is important because the wording of the two texts of the Treaty are different, which has been an ongoing source of conflict. This section provides important background information and an explanation of the key differences. It also has a section on the "principles" of the Treaty - which are those core concepts that underpin both the Māori and English texts, allowing the Treaty to be applied to present-day circumstances and issues.

Because New Zealand is a multi-cultural country, with many people from other Pacific nations, the Treaty has also been translated into several other languages in this website section, including Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Tokelauan, and Cook Island Māori.

There is also a comprehensive website section devoted to written and online resources on the Treaty of Waitangi, to provide for those New Zealanders who wish to pursue the topic further.

A special feature of the site is that it is also in the Māori language at www.tiritiowaitangi.govt.nz. Phase I was completed in January 2005, Phase II will be completed early 2006.

Responses from New Zealanders to the website, to date, have been overwhelmingly positive: some historians are already calling it "one of the most comprehensive resources on the Treaty of Waitangi". In the first 10 days after the launch of the website in April 2004, there were 1.8 million website hits. In June 2005, after the launch of further content on the website and a low budget publicity campaign, there were 1.5 million hits and 8.48GB of bandwidth. There have been requests for over 70,000 booklets on the Treaty - drawn from website content - since June.

Upcoming improvements to the site include "Seedpod", an e-learning initiative; over 100 hyperlinks to archived audio from Radio New Zealand on Treaty issues; quizzes; and interactive content specifically for school-aged children.

Events supported by the website to be launched later in the year include community dialogue events around New Zealand and, in conjunction with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, National Library and Archives New Zealand, a touring exhibition on the Treaty involving a large truck and mobile display of 2D and 3D exhibition elements.

Category: e-Government
Treaty of Waitangi Site
www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz

Te Reo Māori - Treaty of Waitangi Site
www.tiritiowaitangi.govt.nz


e-Government
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