Museum and library combine for display on Treaty journey

As Waitangi Day approaches, the museum team is pleased to have, what we’re pretty sure is, our first dedicated treaty display on show, located in the MTG Hawke’s Bay Octagon space, currently within the Napier Library. ‘Te Tiriti Ora: our living treaty’, is a joint effort between museum and library staff, with relevant books available for checking out placed alongside the four sections. These focus respectively on He Whakaputanga of 1835 (commonly known as the Declaration of Independence), Te Tiriti o Waitangi itself, local stories of the treaty here in Te Matau a Māui / Hawke’s Bay, and lastly a timeline of points from the Crown’s treaty journey from 1840 to today.

I’m grateful I’ve been able to work on this project, not least because it gave me the opportunity to finally address my lifelong ignorance on something fundamental to who I am as a Pākehā – and to all people living on these islands collectively called Aotearoa New Zealand. There’s always a sense of disbelief when I learn some crucial new piece of knowledge about the treaty, and wonder how on earth I got through 13 years of NZ public schooling without ever engaging with the topic!

It’s been surprising to find that the more I read and listen, the less complicated it all seems, despite the increasing volume of facts and interpretations of events. I’d long had the impression that the English-language Treaty of Waitangi was the primary document signed, with an accompanying reo Māori translation that caused issues due to errors of translation and linguistic ambiguities. I assumed that this had led Māori signatories to misunderstand the agreement and accidentally sign away their sovereignty: the right to determine their own destiny. Colonisation was therefore an unfortunate mishap in cross-cultural communication and the way forward is necessarily highly complex and fraught.

Gaining even a basic familiarity with the history was enough to clear that up, as of the nine separate sheets that were taken around the islands to gather signatures, only one was an English version, signed by 39 rangatira. The other eight sheets were copies of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in te reo Māori, with more than 500 signatures between them. Those signatories understood exactly what the document said, as Te Tiriti clearly lays out the agreement whereby the Queen of England is permitted to establish governorship on Māori land to bring the increasing numbers of Pākehā under their own culturally appropriate system of law and order. Benefits to the Crown included the right to trade in land with Māori landowners, and in return the Queen committed to extend to Māori all the rights of citizenship as the people of England. She acknowledged the absolute paramount authority (tino rangatiratanga) of Māori over their lands, villages, and all things treasured.

All of which seems quite logical and is easy to understand: Māori delegated the authority to keep Pākehā in check over to the newcomers’ own leader, in the form of a partnership that would enable both peoples to live on these islands in peace. Colonisation was and remains the Crown’s fundamental breach of the treaty, and therefore to actually achieve peace the way forward seems to me quite simple: the Crown must honour the treaty by enabling the restoration of tino rangatiratanga.

I look forward to being in the museum today, tomorrow and on Waitangi Day to talk treaty with anyone keen to hear a short introduction to the topic, ask questions, or share their own knowledge on our living treaty. Mauri ora!

  • Weaving Workshops, join celebrated weaver Karmen Thomson for a series of 45 minute weaving workshops at MTG. Today (Saturday 2 February), Sunday 3 February and Wednesday 6 February at 10-10.45am, 11-11.45am and 1-2pm each day. Free entry, all welcome, please register through Eventfinda.
  • Visit Te Tiriti Ora: our living treaty exhibition at MTG with Jess Mio, Curator of Art. Today (Saturday 2 February) and Sunday 3 February between 10am–2pm. And Waitangi Day (Wednesday 6 February) from 9.30am-12pm. Free entry, all welcome. Please meet in the Main Foyer, no need to register.
  • Curators Talk, join Social History Curator Gail Pope in the House of Webb Tuesday, 5 February at 11am, meet in MTG front foyer. Free event.
  • Twilight Art Class, held in the exhibition space, explore various mediums used by the Webb family throughout their journeys. This session focuses on landscapes. Tuesday, February 5, 6-8pm. $35 per class ($30 for friends of MTG). Please register to secure a place 06 835 7781.
  • Toi Āhua art installation opens this week. Free entry.
  • Behind the Scenes: Art Deco Collection. Monday 11 February 12-1pm. Explore fine examples of Art Deco design in the museum collections including fabulous frocks to inspire you for the Art Deco Festival. Free Public programme, all welcome. Spaces are limited, please register through Eventfinda or at the front desk in the main foyer at MTG.
  • The Art Deco Festival begins on the 13 February. For a list of events on at MTG, please visit our website (


Jess Mio, Curator – Art, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 2 February 2019


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