In her first Waitangi Day as Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy has drawn on her experiences as a Crown negotiator to deliver an unvarnished history of the impact on Maori of British breaches of the Treaty.

Reddy delivered her annual Waitangi address at the Bledisloe Garden reception at Government House on a windy and overcast Wellington day.

A former chief Crown negotiator for the Tauranga Moana Iwi Collective - the Bay of Plenty iwi that settled in 2015 - Reddy said she had gained a new insight into the impact of the Treaty and the breaches in its aftermath.

"My experience as a Crown negotiator confirmed for me that confronting our past is the only way to understand how we should behave in the present."


Reddy delivered a stark history of the Treaty relationship, pointing to confusion in the different translations of the Treaty, and the "devastating and long-lasting" effects on Maori of the breaches by Great Britain which resulted in the land wars and confiscations.

"The colonists came here to make a new future for themselves and their families. They wanted land and many were impatient or ignorant of the Treaty, which they saw as an impediment to the march of progress."

She said successive governments supported those colonists' demands.

"In 1840, Maori could not have imagined the scale of the colonisation that was to come. They protested against breaches of the Treaty - to no avail - and their resistance culminated in armed conflict."

Reddy said that despite its fraught history and uncertain legal status, the Treaty was a "living document and a vital part of our constitutional framework".

"It is central to our history - and we live with that history. Every community in New Zealand is the way it is today because of that document and the aftermath of those signings 177 years ago today."

She said Waitangi Day meant different things to different people.

"If I were to ask them what Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty of Waitangi - means to them, there would be a mixed response, ranging from an instrument of colonisation - or a musty 19th century relic - to a solemn pact between two peoples about how they were to live together in the future."


However, Reddy said she had been fortunate to witness a shift in perceptions about the Treaty and an acknowledgement of "the systematic denial of those promises over time".

The Treaty settlement process had allowed for confidence in a better future. "Our Treaty asked of us that we act in good faith and value each other's rights and respect difference. Those are qualities to value and affirm."

The event was attended by Prime Minister Bill English and numerous other MPs, diplomats and dignitaries.

Just before the garden party, Reddy presided over a citizenship ceremony, and the newly fledged citizens also stayed on for the event.