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Revealing poll shows people see Te Tiriti o Waitangi as partnership – HRC

Seventy per cent of New Zealanders believe it is important for Māori and non-Māori to decide together on an equal footing how te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured.

This is one of the crucial findings for Aotearoa of a Horizon Research survey conducted for Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission earlier this month. It also found 80% of New Zealanders think respectful discussion of racial issues is important.

“Te Tiriti is our founding human rights document in Aotearoa New Zealand, and as this survey highlights, most people want us to build on it as a source of strength for our country,” says the Commission’s Rongomau Taketake (Indigenous Rights partner) Claire Charters.

Sixty-four per cent of those surveyed agreed that working together requires more careful listening and understanding and less political rhetoric.

“Te Tiriti o Waitangi is well recognised as a partnership between Māori and non-Māori, and both parties should be making decisions about the future together, on an equal playing field,” says Charters.

“In that sense, it’s not the government alone nor Māori alone who have the final say, but it’s both working together,” says Charters.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says “while the government of the day could propose something like a referendum on how te Tiriti is applied, such a move needs to be with the agreement of its treaty partner, Māori.”

More than 500 Māori signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840, representing many iwi and hapū in Aotearoa.

“People generally want decisions around te Tiriti to proceed with care, and that can happen when government treats its treaty partner as an equal,” says Hunt “and people need to understand that te Tiriti benefits everyone in Aotearoa.”

More education needed

Education is pivotal if the rights within te Tiriti o Waitangi are to be realised for everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand, says Charters.

One of the Commission’s functions under the Human Rights Act is to promote a better understanding of the human rights dimensions of the Treaty of Waitangi and their relationship with domestic and international human rights law. The Commission itself is on a journey to becoming an organisation that reflects te Tiriti o Waitangi in its work, culture, staff capability, and structures.

The Horizon survey finds 83% of adult New Zealanders believe that a country where everyone knows its history is important. Only 58% believe they are informed about te Tiriti o Waitangi and 32% say they are uninformed. Only 13% have read te Tiriti o Waitangi (te reo Māori version), and 23% have read the English translation of the Māori text. Overall, 32% haven’t read any version or summary of the Treaty/ Te Tiriti.

Charters says that as expected, the survey showed divergent views among New Zealanders. For example, there were lower levels of agreement that Te Tiriti applies to everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand, not just Māori (58% agreed). Furthermore, only 49% agreed that Te Tiriti relates to human rights, which represents an opportunity for education amongst New Zealanders.

“There is more work to be done to build a shared understanding of te Tiriti o Waitangi and our roles and responsibilities,” says Charters.

The National Library of New Zealand, followed by the Waitangi Tribunal and history books/websites were the most trusted sources to provide accurate information about the Treaty. The Human Rights Commission was the fifth most trusted source.

The survey was conducted nationwide between 2nd and 7th November 2023. There were 1,076 respondents aged 18+, representing New Zealand’s adult population. At a 95% confidence level, the survey has a maximum margin of error of ±3% overall.

Poll results are available here.


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