Waitangi Tribunal report finds Crown breached treaty principles, should return all Crown-owned land in northern district to Māori

A major Waitangi Tribunal report has found the Crown's interactions with Māori between 1840 and 1900 breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and caused "severe and lasting prejudice".

The tribunal is now calling on the Crown to apologise and acknowledge the treaty agreement it entered into with rangatira (chiefs) from Te Raki. The inquiry district includes Hokianga and most of Northland's east coast, broadly covering Whangaroa, Bay of Islands, Mangakāhia, Whāngārei, Mahurangi and the Gulf Islands. 

It has recommended the Crown return all Crown-owned land in the district to Te Raki Māori, provide compensation and discuss with them how to establish appropriate constitutional processes and institutions to recognise and give effect to their rights.

A Government spokesperson on Friday said: "The Crown welcomes this report from the Tribunal. We will now carefully review and consider the Tribunal’s findings."

Inquiry district and taiwhenua.
Inquiry district and taiwhenua. Photo credit: Waitangi Tribunal.

The report, made public on Friday, is the first part of the second stage of the Waitangi Tribunal's Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry presided over by Judge Craig Coxhead.

A report on the first stage was released in 2014 and found the rangatira who signed Te Tiriti in the Bay of Islands and Hokianga in 1840 didn't cede their sovereignty. Instead, that report concluded, they agreed to a relationship in which they and the Governor were to be equal while having different roles and different spheres of influence.

This new document focuses on 415 Te Paparahi o Te Raki claims under the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, addressing key issues raised relating to actions in the 19th century. 

Hearings ran from 2013 to 2017, with final submissions received in May 2018.

The tribunal found the Crown overstepped the bounds of its kāwanatanga (its authority to govern) in Te Raki between 1840 and 1900 which led to the erosion of Te Raki Māori rangatiratanga. Rangatiratanga means the ability to have self-determination and chieftainship.

Key findings

Key points of the report include the view that two proclamations in 1840 by Captain William Hobson, the Crown representative, breached the treaty principles. 

These were the proclamation the Crown had sovereignty over the North Island and then over the rest of the islands of New Zealand. The tribunal said these breached the treaty principles as Te Raki Māori had not ceded sovereignty to the Crown.

"When negotiating te Tiriti, Crown did not clarify to Te Raki Māori that it intended to establish a government and legal system under its sole control, nor explain it would assert sovereignty over the whole country," a statement from the tribunal on the report said.

The Crown also rejected opportunities to talk with leaders of Ngāpuhi about concerns the treaty was being ignored and instead took military action against them, leading to the northern war between 1844 and 1846.

"It initiated attacks on pā and kāinga, made the surrender of land a condition of peace and did not adequately consider the welfare of non-combatants, among other failures. These Crown actions had severe short- and long-term effects on Ngāpuhi," the report found.

A large section of the report is focused on the Crown's treaty breaches related to land.

It found the tikanga of Te Raki Māori was supplanted by the Crown through its approach to land transactions.

When Māori transacted land with the settlers prior to 1840, it was done so within the context of their own laws and the expectation was the Crown would seek rangatira's agreements on the nature, shape and processes for any investigations into these transactions.

However, the tribunal found that after 1840 the Crown imposed its own processes for determining land rights. 

"The tribunal concluded the Crown's imposition of English legal concepts, grant of absolute freehold title to settlers and its own subsequent taking of the surplus were effectively a raupatu (confiscation) of Te Raki Māori tino rangatiranga over thousands of acres of their land."

Other breaches relate to the Crown's land purchasing policies and practices between 1840 and 1865 as well as the introduction of the Native Land Court and native land laws. 

"The Crown's imposition from 1862 of a new land tenure system that individualised title to Māori customary land, making it more vulnerable to partition, fragmentation and alienation, was particularly devastating for Te Raki Māori," the tribunal concluded.

"This system undermined community control over whenua, eroding the cultural, political and economic organisation of hapū. It also brought large-scale land loss, with Māori retaining only a third of the inquiry district by 1900. 

"The Tribunal found the Crown's 19th-century land policies inflicted deep and enduring damage on Te Raki Māori and noted the district remains one of the most economically deprived parts of New Zealand today."

When the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was passed, transferring power from the imperial authority to the new colonial Government, the treaty principles were again breached by not allowing for Māori representation, the report found. Māori were not provided seats in Parliament until 1867.

The tribunal said this failed to uphold the Crown's promise to protect Māori interests and independence, with the Crown progressively giving the settler population more authority, therefore undermining the treaty relationship.

Governors Thomas Gore Browne and George Grey both sought solutions to involve Māori in the governance of their communities through rūnanga (councils or assemblies). However, the tribunal said these were short-lived and "gave way to directly assimilationist institutions such as the Native Land Court". 

Te Raki Māori did try to asset their tino rangatiratanga throughout the 19th century, the tribunal said, such as by taking steps to establish regional parliaments and a national Māori parliament recognised by the Crown. 

"However, the Crown rejected or ignored their proposals for Māori self-government and was unwilling to recognise any significant transfer of authority from colonial institutions. The tribunal found that this was a historically unique opportunity to make provision in New Zealand's constitutional arrangements for Māori tino rangatiratanga at a national level."


A summary of the key findings from Judge Coxhead at the start of the report is addressed to multiple ministers including Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson and Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis.

It includes recommendations the Crown acknowledges the treaty agreement it entered into with Te Raki rangatira in 1840 and apologises to hapū and iwi for its breaches. 

"All land owned by the Crown within the inquiry district be returned to Te Raki Māori ownership as redress for the Crown's breaches of te Tiriti/the Treaty and ngā mātāpono o te Tiriti/the principles of the Treaty," the tribunal recommended. 

It also recommended further compensation to Te Raki Māori "to restore the economise base of the hapū" and as redress for the losses they suffered as a result of Crown breaches of the treaty.

The tribunal suggested the Crown enter discussions with Te Raki Māori "to determine appropriate constitutional processes and institutions at national, iwi and hapū levels to recognise, respect, and give effect to their Tiriti/ Treaty rights". 

This may require legislation to be passed, the tribunal found.

Judge Coxhead wrote the Crown should consider "how to enable the meaningful exercise of tino rangatiratanga at national, iwi, and hapū levels".

"Those discussions and negotiations will occur in part at a constitutional level and will require a sharing of power as envisaged in te Tiriti. 

"We have no doubt that this process will be challenging for the Crown but undertaking it in good faith is essential if the treaty partnership and the Crown's own honour is to be restored. 

"It is important that any proposed resolution to the claims involve the legislative and policy reform necessary to reset the relationship between tino rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga so that the promises of te Tiriti are realised."