Protestors march towards the Te Whare Runanga on Waitangi Day February 06, 2007 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Protestors march towards the Te Whare Runanga on Waitangi Day February 06, 2007 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

BooksJanuary 30, 2024

A Te Tiriti reading (and watching and listening) guide

Protestors march towards the Te Whare Runanga on Waitangi Day February 06, 2007 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Protestors march towards the Te Whare Runanga on Waitangi Day February 06, 2007 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Feeling like you’d fail a Te Tiriti quiz? This is the list for you.

It’s the most important document in our country. It frames all of our pasts, presents and futures. But how many of us can say we understand the why, when, where and what of Te Tiriti o Waitangi? 

Last week, human rights lawyer and Te Tiriti educator, Roimata Smail (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, England, Scotland, Ireland) released a 32-page pocket guide to understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in time for what looks to be a year (plus) of political and public debate thanks to perpetually threatened David Seymour’s incendiary Treaty Principles Bill which essentially seeks to erase Tino Rangatiratanga, or Māori Rights.

“I have empathy for my own generation who didn’t get to learn our history,” says Smail, “and anyone else who just doesn’t know the basic facts that I’ve been lucky enough to learn over the course of my career as a lawyer.” 

Thanks to a systemic chasm in acknowledgement of, and education in, Aotearoa’s own history, it’s fair to suggest that heaps of us could do with brushing up on the basics. Smail’s book covers things like how Māori asserting Tino Rangatiratanga has benefited New Zealand both historically and today; the key differences between Te Tiriti o Waitangi and The Treaty; what was agreed to in the three Articles; Kawanatanga; Tino Rangatiratanga; Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti – why they’re different, and more.

If you’ve read this far and you’re wavering on whether you should keep going, this quote from an interview with Dr Moana Jackson might help spur you on: “… hearts aren’t necessarily changed in a school; hearts are changed in the dialogue that people can have at home, at work, with friends, with antagonists.” 

The following Te Tiriti info guide is designed to support well-informed conversation with a list of articles and books to sort the basics first, then provide deeper reading (and watching, listening and doing) after that. The (Level) notes show degree of information: Level 1 being most simple, Level 5 being more complex.

Human rights lawyer Roimata Smail with her new book, Understanding Te Tiriti. (Photo: Supplied)

Online guides for the basics

Understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Re: News 

This short video is a super clear summary of Te Tiriti o Waitangi narrated by journalist Liam Rātana, with excellent infographics, and is the perfect place to start to get the historic foundations sorted. (Level 1) 

What’s required from Tangata Tiriti by Tina Ngata 

Tangata Tiriti means to be a person of the treaty. But how do we do that? Tina Ngata’s 10-point list is essential reading. Read it, share it, keep it in your bookmarks. (Level 1) 

See also: this article (and podcast) in which two non-Māori share what being Tangata Tiriti means for them.

Te Tiriti of Waitangi, a summary by Claudia Orange 

Dame Claudia Josepha Orange DNZM OBE CRSNZ is one of the foremost Pākehā historians on Te Tiriti. Her 1987 book The Treaty of Waitangi (adapted from her PhD thesis) is one of the seminal histories of Te Tiriti and has been published in multiple, revised editions (see below). This online resource, published on Aotearoa history website Te Ara, is a concise summary of key historical aspects of Te Tiriti and includes a reference list and footnotes. (Level 1)

See also: this video (approx. 40mins) of Claudio Orange and Dr Carwyn Jones talking about Orange’s work on Te Tiriti (produced by BWB).

The Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – what are they?

The Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi have been developed since 1987 as a way to interpret and apply Te Tiriti. This Wikipedia article is a good, quick overview. Then this Te Ara summary in six-parts takes you through how the principles have been developed by the courts, by laws, by the Waitangi Tribunal and by the Crown. (Level 1)

Interview with Dr Moana Jackson, National Library of New Zealand (video and transcript)

Dr Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) was a trailblazing activist and renowned lawyer whose thinking has shaped and propelled progressive conversation in Aotearoa. In this interview he really gets to the heart of Te Tiriti. His answers are wise and insightful, for example: “… long before 1840 our people were treatying with each other, because that’s what independent bodies do. And in Ngāti Kahungunu, the phrase we use is mahi tūhono, and so treaties are seen as work that brings people together, and I think that’s a lovely description of what a treaty should be.” (Level 2) 

Two older people, a man and a woman, hugging in a bookstore
Moana Jackson at Unity Wellington. (Photo: Unity Wellington via Facebook)

Treaty Resource Centre – He Puna Mātauranga o Te Tiriti

There’s a lot in here and to be honest this website can feel dense to navigate. A useful section though is this one on working as allies, which points to samples of a publication of interviews with people who are working for indigenous justice, and why and how they do it. (Levels 1 – 5) 

About Te Tiriti o Waitangi, video guides in NZSL

This seven-part video series created by Treaty People (a Te Tiriti education service) is a guide to Te Tiriti, Māori Rights and Disability Rights, how to celebrate Te Tiriti, all in New Zealand Sign Language. (Level 1)

Short books for the basics

Understanding Te Tiriti – a handbook about Te Tiriti o Waitangi by Roimata Smail

Hot off the press from human rights lawyer and Te Tiriti educator Roimata Smail (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, England, Scotland, Ireland). At just 32 pages this nifty guide is designed to backfill common knowledge gaps. (Level 2)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Ross Calman, Mark Derby and Toby Morris (with Peter Adds, Hōne Apanui, Ian Cormack, Hinerangi Himiona, Jen Margaret, Dame Claudia Orange, Jock Phillips, Kate Potter, and Piripi Walker)

This graphic novel style bilingual book is a genius way to immerse in Te Tiriti. Perfect to have at home and in the classroom, there is also a downloadable teaching resource to go with it, and a brilliant 20-minute audio overview of Te Tiriti: “it’s about all of us and this means we need to understand it.” (Level 2)

Introducing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Jared Davidson and Claudia Orange

This slim book (from the BWB Texts series) is a condensed version of the much larger illustrated Te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi by Claudia Orange. In it you’ll find the facts of what happened at Waitangi, what was at stake and the circumstances surrounding the agreement. (Level 2)

Imagining Decolonisation, Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Rebecca Kiddle, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton, Amanda Thomas (a BWB Text)

This small but mighty book, published in 2022, stayed on the bestsellers lists for literally years. It’s a genius collection of essays by generous thinkers who tackle what decolonisation actually is by first showing the effects of colonisation, and then by showing how that damage can be healed, why it should be, and how everyone’s lives could improve. (Level 3)

Seven people photographed together in a bookstore, happy
The authors of Imagining Decolonisation at the launch of the book at Unity Books Wellington. (Photo: Supplied)

Deeper dives

Colonising Myths, Māori Realities by Ani Mikaere

Published by HUIA, this ground-breaking collection of essays by leading legal scholar Ani Mikaere (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) is, importantly, very readable. The book covers over two decades of Mikaere’s experiences of teaching Māori and Western Law and the struggle to create a genuinely bi-cultural law school (at University of Waikato). The book shows the effects of colonisation on Māori lives by looking at the justice system and how it was built to benefit Pākehā, and marginalise Māori. It’s an invigorating, inspiring, and generous book. (Level 4)

Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou | Struggle Without End by Dr Ranginui Walker

This hugely influential book (first published in 1990 and revised in 2004) is a history of New Zealand from a Māori perspective. The Spinoff published this excerpt from the chapter called Tauiwi, which discusses the differences between the Māori and English versions of The Treaty / Te Tiriti. (Level 3)

Land of the Long White Cloud, video documentary series on RNZ
This watchable seven-part series is about Pākehā confronting inherited privilege. The final episode is particularly interesting: it covers theatre makers Jo Randerson and Tom Clarke, who created a show imagining if Cook came back and saw, and reflected on, the impact of the colonisation that he spearheaded. (Level 4)

The Treaty of Waitangi: What Really Happened (pretty much), made-for-TV film 

This 2011 documentary uses comedy and a bit of creative licence to dramatise the days leading up to the signing of Te Tiriti in 1840. It’s very watchable and fun for family viewing. Starring Jarod Rawiri as Hōne Heke, and co-written by Witi Ihimaera and Gavin Strawhan. (Level 3)

The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi by Ned Fletcher

OK, look, this book is bigger than the Beehive and could endanger anyone who fell asleep while reading it in bed, such is its physical weight. Fletcher’s research into the British motivations for writing Te Tiriti has added another dimension to scholarship and thankfully there are some excellent reviews out there that illuminate its core contributions: Morgan Godfery did a heroic job of analysing the book for The Spinoff, here, and Michael J. Stevens did a brilliant job on the Ngāi Tahi website, here. (Level 5)

See also: Ned Fletcher gives fascinating talk about the book in this National Library of New Zealand recorded Zoom video on YouTube, here (about an hour long).

Image: Creative Commons

Te Tiriti, creatively

A poem for Waitangi Day by Te Kahu Rolleston

Performance artist Te Kahu Rolleston’s 2015 poem speaks to ongoing inequalities that show that Te Tiriti is not being upheld. “Can we at least be courteous and decent as Treaty partners?”

Turncoat by Tīhema Baker, a novel

This satirical sci-fi novel published by Lawrence & Gibson in 2023 was, and is, a huge hit: it’s funny, it’s inventive, and it’s based on Baker’s (Raukawa te Au ki te Tonga, Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangatira) own experiences of working in the Public Service. This article on e-Tangata tells you why he wrote it, and this review on The Spinoff gives you a glimpse into what it’s about. If you’re in Wellington on 25 February you can go to this event and listen to Tīhema talk about this book, and the experiences behind it, at the Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts.

Cook Thinks Again by Barbarian Productions, an audio experience 

You can download this walking-tour show that beautifully works with comedy to make us life while also making us think about what colonisation means, and is today. Here’s the show blurb: “Based on Barbarian’s award-winning live walking tour experience, this site-specific, historically accurate and contemporarily contextualised tour has Cook ‘thinking again’ about his contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand’s history. A fun and accessible opportunity for tourists and locals alike to reflect on the effect and legacy of colonisation.”

Our Watch Now by Witi Ihimaera, a poem

This poem is one of a few offered to teachers as part of learning materials made by National Library of New Zealand for He Tohu. Witi Ihimaera shows, through a series of imaginings, what Aotearoa might be like if Te Tiriti was honoured. Beautiful, stirring, and includes this banger: “Māori Earth … not / Middle Earth”.

See also: more excellent resources online here.

Te Tiriti training

This is a (non-exhaustive) list of organisations that provide Te Tiriti training in-person and online:

Aotearoa-wide, (educators can travel) / online options:

Introduction to te Tiriti o Waitangi the Treaty of Waitangi workshops, Treaty Training

Self-paced Te Tiriti workshops, as well as in-person for individuals or groups, and tailored solutions, Groundwork

Our Tangata Tiriti, Treaty People workshops, Treaty People

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a Visual History (for non-Māori), Ako Aotearoa 

Ōtepoti / Dunedin

Introduction to Te Tiriti o Waitangi workshop, Otago Polytechnic

Ōtautahi / Christchurch, Timaru, Hakatere/ Ashburton (or online)

Introduction to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Ara Institute

The books mentioned in this list can be ordered directly from the links provided, or ordered from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

Keep going!