The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)

Signing Treaty of Waitangi

Sometimes you will see the phrase’ an understanding of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’ in job advertisements.’  In this post we will examine what this means, and how you can respond to it in a CV or covering letter.

What is the Treaty of Waitangi?

The Treaty is an agreement that was entered into by representatives of the British Crown and of Māori iwi or tribes.  It is named after the place where it was signed on 6 February 1840, and a national public holiday on that date recognises it as New Zealand’s founding document.

There are two versions of the treaty, one in English, the other in Māori.  There is debate over different meanings between them, but as a general summary, the treaty gave sovereignty of New Zealand to the British, with Māori retaining rights of ownership over their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions.  There are disagreements over what these rights entail, and in 1975 a Waitangi Tribunal was established to consider claims that Māori rights have been violated without proper consent or compensation.  In 1985 the tribunal’s brief was extend to include Crown acts and omissions related to claims and settlements against past governments.

Today four principles of the treaty are recognised:

  1. Principle of government (the Government has the right to govern and make laws)
  2. Principle of self-management (iwi Māori have the right to organise themselves and control the resources they own)
  3. Principle of reasonable co-operation (the Crown must act reasonably and in good faith towards its Treaty partner)
  4. Principle of redress (the Crown is responsible for providing effective processes for resolving grievances

You will find useful background information on the website, as well as

How do Treaty principles feed into the workplace?

An understanding of Treaty principles can be helpful when working alongside Māori and working on issues that affect Māori .  It will help you to understand why Māori protocol is recognised in your workplace. 

Where organisations are concerned with social equity and community wellbeing, statistics show that in many areas that reflect wellbeing (housing, health, education and employment), Māori lag behind.  Māori feel that the process of colonisation has undermined them and their way of life.

Workplace Wellbeing, a collective of social and community services, sums this up very well on their website:  “Applying te tiriti’s principles we can see that we need to take a partnership approach to developing and delivering services, and that we need to consult with affected Māori and act on this consultation in a meaningful way.  We can see that in some circumstances it may be necessary to develop separate systems and services for Māori, to ensure equity of outcome (as opposed to equity of access) in what we do.”[1]

In public health, for example, Treaty principles are now part of the NZ Public Health and Disability Act 2000.  This requires that health practitioners:

  • Form partnerships with Māori, recognise and provide for Māori interests
  • Be responsive to the needs of Māori
  • Ensure there are equal opportunities for Māori

This is particularly important in the health sector as Māori comprise a significant proportion of users of the health services and the health status of Māori is recognised as a health priority area.[2]


[2] Guidelines for cultural safety, the Treaty of Waitangi, and Maori health in nursing education and practice, Nursing Council of New Zealand, 2011

How can I demonstrate that I understand the principles?

The principles of the Treaty are often subsumed into a more generic phrase of ‘cultural competence’ which can be summarised as follows:

Firstly, evaluate your own attitudes and beliefs, secondly gather knowledge of other cultural world views and practices and, thirdly, develop a range of culturally appropriate strategies that can be applied where necessary. 

You have to demonstrate to the recruiter that you understand the process and why it is needed.  In terms of the Treaty, you also need to demonstrate an understanding of New Zealand’s bicultural heritage with Māori as indigenous people and Pakeha as Treaty partners.

If you were a nurse, for example, you can demonstrate your cultural competence through achievements in previous jobs and then align that with your new understanding of Treaty principles and how it would affect your behaviour in the workplace.

Some employers may assess understanding of the principles of the Treaty as it applies in the workplace through observation of your practice.  Other ways you can demonstrate it are by saying that you have read about the Treaty and its implications in the role you are applying for.  You can also attend courses or lectures on the subject.  It is very worthwhile to attend courses in te reo (Māori language) and tikanga Māori (Māori customs and traditions) to gain a full understanding of the issues involved.  Some employers will offer training on cultural competence and Treaty awareness.

If you google ‘cultural competencies’ with your sector label you may come up with a document that neatly summarises what is expected of practitioners.

Government Departments, District Health Boards and Universities are some good sources for information on this topic.