NZ's founding documents find a new home

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne at the unveiling (Emma Jolliff / Newshub.)
Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne at the unveiling (Emma Jolliff / Newshub.)

The future of three of New Zealand's founding documents is being given a $6.7 million permanent new home at the National Library in Wellington.

The exhibition is called He Tohu, meaning "the signs", which refers to the signatures of those who signed the three documents:

The taonga are currently at Archives New Zealand.

The new exhibition will involve state-of-the-art conservation technology, including temperature controls that will preserve the documents for the next 500 years.

There will also be online and on-site learning facilities, with a focus 10- to 15 year olds.


Te Tiriti o Waitangi isn't one document, but nine. It was signed by 40 northern chiefs on February 6, 1840. It was also signed at other locations around the country over the next seven months.

A previous request to move the documents to Te Papa for display on Waitangi Day was refused because of how fragile they are.

Chief Archivist, Marilyn Little, says the Waitangi Sheet was eaten by rats and suffered water damage in the old government buildings in the late 19th century.

"It's so fragile it takes my breath away," she says.

The current exhibition is 25 years old and Ms Little says changes in technology that can manage light, temperature and humidity are like the difference between a 1990's 747 aircraft and an A380.

The Women's Suffrage Petition, submitted to Parliament in 1893, will also be on display. Previously women had been excluded from politics, and were considered more suited to domestic duties like housekeeping and child-rearing.

The petition was signed by 32,000 women, almost a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand

Wellington Girls' College student, Ella Thorpe, has been researching signatories to the petition and hopes the exhibition will be a more public feature, being surrounded by three girls' schools and adjacent to Parliament.

He Tohu will also be home to the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

Haami Piripi, from the Iwi Leaders Partner Group, says the Declaration brings together the threads of Maori Sovereignty; the Treaty, the notion of one nation, two peoples; and the petition, equal votes for everybody including women.

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter Dunne, says it's important to have a national home for these three documents that shape us as a nation.

"It's important for our tamariki to understand the intent of the people who signed them," he says.

The documents will remain under the statutory care of Archives New Zealand.