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Treaty principles

The Treaty of Waitangi forms part of New Zealand’s constitution. (See the Governor-General’s website for an overview of the constitution.) In addition, the Education Act 1989 states broad expectations for Māori, and the National Education Guidelines (NEGs) 1, 2, and 9 and the National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) 1(e) and 2(c) describe specific legislative requirements in relation to Māori.

As they work to enact the Treaty of Waitangi, schools may find it helpful to consider the three broad principles suggested by the 1988 Royal Commission on Social Policy: partnership, protection, and participation. These Treaty principles have been used to structure this Update.


The New Zealand Curriculum envisions:

… young people who will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Māori and Pākehā recognise each other as full Treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring.

NZC, p. 8

Achieving this vision requires schools to support all students to understand:

  • the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s history
  • that everybody has rights and responsibilities as citizens and that the Treaty affords Māori a dual set of rights as tangata whenua
  • the special place of Māori culture within New Zealand (a multicultural society underpinned by bicultural foundations).

The Treaty principle of partnership benefits all learners. It harnesses the knowledge and expertise of the diverse people who can contribute to students’ learning, including families, whānau, iwi, and other community members. Partnership is realised as schools collaborate with Māori and non-Māori to develop, implement, and review policies, practices, and procedures. By working collaboratively, schools learn to share power, control, and decision-making while validating the unique position of Māori as tangata whenua and recognising the contribution Māori make to education.

Schools are encouraged to form partnerships with local iwi and hapū as part of engaging with their Māori community. For information on how or support to do this, contact local regional Ministry of Education offices.

The UNESCO Treaty of Waitangi web resource is helpful in exploring the meanings of partnership.

Case study

Tō tātou Tiriti – Karawhiua! Our Treaty – Go for it!

Case 7 in the Social Sciences BES (Aitken and Sinnema, 2008) describes how a teacher integrated drama and the social sciences to deepen students’ understanding of the different points of view on the Treaty.

The year 7 class included 22 Pākehā, eight Māori, and two Korean students. With the support of advisers in Māori, social studies, and drama, the teacher selected a range of activities that fostered a culturally inclusive and supportive learning environment. The main activity was a process drama (extended role play) based on The Nickle Nackle Tree (Dodd, 1996). Together, the class created a fictional world in which there was conflict between the tree’s original inhabitants and a group of immigrant birds. As the drama developed, it became a metaphor for Treaty relations as reflected in the students’ understanding of different issues:

It related to real life because the birds were fighting over berries, and humans do the same over land and resources.

The Nickle Nackle tree is like real life, because we all care about where we live and don’t want to lose it.

The full case study describes the complete sequence of activities and their relationship to the learning.

Exploring the curriculum’s Treaty principle through the arts

As the case studies in this Update show, the arts provide a powerful way of supporting students to explore concepts, issues, and situations related to the curriculum’s Treaty principle while building a sense of identity and acquiring knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. This Update includes relevant arts resources. Two examples are the units Parihaka in Telling Our Stories: Classroom Drama in Years 7–10 (2004) and Taonga in Playing Our Stories: Classroom Drama in Years 1–6 (2006).

At senior secondary level, New Zealand is the first country in the world to formally recognise indigenous knowledge through educational qualifications. Field Māori contains arts-related unit standards and national certificates relating to Māori knowledge, pedagogy, and skills. See QA News for June 2011 to read about new and revised Field Māori qualifications.

Download the full print version: Issue 16: January 2012 (PDF, 1 MB)