The Waitangi Tribunal's finding that Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi did not cede sovereignty does not change the fact the Crown has sovereignty in New Zealand, Treaty Negotations Minister Chris Finlayson says.
The tribunal today released its report on stage one of its inquiry into Te Paparahi o te Raki (the great land of the north) treaty claims.
"Though Britain went into the Treaty negotiation intending to acquire sovereignty, and therefore the power to make and enforce law over both Maori and Pakeha, it did not explain this to the rangatira (chiefs)," the tribunal said.
Rather, Britain's representative William Hobson and his agents explained the treaty as granting Britain "the power to control British subjects and thereby to protect Maori", while rangatira were told that they would retain their "tino rangatiratanga", their independence and full chiefly authority.
"The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain," the tribunal said.
"That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories."
But Mr Finlayson today said: "There is no question that the Crown has sovereignty in New Zealand. This report doesn't change that fact."
Mr Finlayson said the report drew together existing scholarship on the Declaration of Independence and Treaty of Waitangi and that the tribunal noted that its report "represents continuity rather than dramatic change in current Treaty scholarship".
"The Tribunal doesn't reach any conclusion regarding the sovereignty the Crown exercises in New Zealand. Nor does it address the other events considered part of the Crown's acquisition of sovereignty, or how the Treaty relationship should operate today."
Mr Finlayson said the Government would consider the report as it would any other Tribunal report. "The Crown is focused on the future and on developing and maintaining the Crown-Maori relationship as a Treaty partner. That's why we are so focused on completing Treaty settlements in a just and durable manner."
The report notes chiefs did agree "to share power and authority with Britain".
"They agreed to the Governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand, and thereby keep the peace and protect Maori interests," the tribunal said.
"The rangatira consented to the treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence. "
The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Maori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.
"Having considered all of the evidence available to the tribunal, the conclusion that Maori did not cede sovereignty in February 1840 was inescapable," it said.
The tribunal said nothing about how and when the Crown acquired the sovereignty that it exercises today.
However, it said, the Crown "did not acquire that sovereignty through an informed cession by the rangatira who signed te Tiriti at Waitangi, Waimate, and Mangungu".
The question of whether the agreement that was reached in February 1840 was honoured in subsequent interactions between the Crown and Maori would be considered during stage two of the inquiry.
- With NZME. News Service