Neither. The te reo and English versions do not say the same things and in some instances are contradictory. Where this is the case, the original documents aren’t very useful. So rather than applying the strict wording of either of the two original versions of the Treaty (te reo and English), in the Waitangi Tribunal Act the Tribunal is charged with determining ‘the meaning and effect of the Treaty as embodied in the two texts’. Not in one version or in the other, but both. These are known as the ‘Treaty principles’. In other words the contemporary Treaty is a mix of the te reo and English versions, plus a pragmatic interpretation of what each party meant when they signed – notwithstanding it is very difficult to decipher exactly what was intended 175 years ago. In fact the current Treaty process goes even further. It also incorporates what today’s parties agree the original signatories would have meant if they were signing up today. Complicated enough? Absolutely, but this confirms the Treaty is a timeless arrangement, to be continually reinterpreted as the relationship between Maori and other New Zealanders evolves. So neither version of the Treaty is ‘right’. How the Treaty is interpreted at any one point in time relies on an ongoing negotiation. No one has a monopoly on what the Treaty means or how it should be applied. As per the famous quote from The Castle – it is really about the ‘vibe’.

Which is the ‘correct’ version of the Treaty? was last modified: January 5th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan