Te Tiriti o Waitangi could be heading home after ‘long and arduous journey’

After 184 years, Te Tiriti o Waitangi could be on its way home for good – although is not yet known when that will exactly be.

Speaking to RNZ, Waitangi National Trust Board chair and Ngati Hine leader Pita Tipene said discussions around the potential return of the Treaty documents to the North had been on-going, with board members meeting with officials two years ago.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Board members also met with Archives NZ chief archivist Anahera Morehu (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kahu) a few days before this year’s Waitangi Day commemorations, he said.

In a statement to RNZ, Morehu confirmed Internal Affairs – the department responsible for Archives NZ – had engaged in “early discussions with Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu to hear their wishes for these taonga”.

“We are open to hearing more from iwi about future options for where these documents could be housed, how they will be housed and other considerations.

“As we approach 2035 and 2040, the 200-year anniversaries of He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti, we expect to spend more time with iwi Māori, and tangata Tiriti, discussing these important kaupapa.”

Tipene described the conversations as beginning “mutually” and conducted in good faith.

The board realised the work involved in housing the documents on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and everyone needed to be a part of the ongoing discussions, he said.

He Tohu Exhibition, Te Puna Mātauranga National Library, Wellington

Storing the Treaty

The nine sheets of Te Tiriti o Waitangi are currently being housed at the National Library in Wellington. They are part of the He Tohu exhibition, opened to the public in 2017, alongside He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

The documents are housed in custom-built display cases that employ precise environmental controls and lighting to prevent deterioration.

Morehu said ongoing conservation and security for the documents was critical.

“The security arrangements at He Tohu balance the physical security of the documents with their need to be accessible to people. They are housed in a beautiful but also highly secure environment.

“Prior to the opening of He Tohu, several years of conservation work and research took place to inform the best preservation environment for each document. Each individual document case controls temperature, humidity and lighting conditions not only for preservation, but for access.

“For example, lighting is carefully calibrated to protect the inks, paper and parchment and also to give the best viewing experience, ” she said

Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga Archives New Zealand Poumanaaki Chief Archivist Anahera Morehu

Tipene agreed the security and care of the documents was vital and the board was open to discussion around how the facilities at the Treaty Grounds could be adjusted to properly house the documents.

Talks were still in their infancy, but the board was very positive about the future, he said.

Only a year after its signing in 1841, the documents were almost destroyed when a fire engulfed government office in Auckland, only saved by record clerk George Elliot arriving to rescue them.

The documents were then discovered in 1908 in the basement of the Old Government Buildings in Wellington, rat-bitten and deteriorated.

Between 1913-15 the documents were housed at the Dominion Museum where they underwent ‘conservation treatment’ to restore the parts of the documents that remained intact. The original sheets were glued to new canvas and the portions damaged by rats reproduced thanks to facsimiles made in the 1870s.

The writings on the documents have also seen significant fading due to light exposure over the decades.

The remainder of the century saw the documents travel to various parts of country including Masterton, the National Archives, the Alexander Turnbull Library and even the safe of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand – often locked away in boxes, unavailable for public viewing.

Apirana Ngata taking the lead in a haka on Waitangi Day at the centennial celebrations at Waitangi, 1940

Only in 1940, to celebrate the centenary of its signing, have the documents returned to the Treaty grounds.

In 1991, Archives New Zealand’s Constitution Room officially opened and the nine sheets of te Tiriti o Waitangi were put on permanent display for the first time.

Morehu said most of the damage to Te Tiriti occurred in the late 19th century, long before the National Archives was established in 1957.

“Since then and for as long as Te Tiriti has been in our care, its safety and preservation for future generations has been our priority – as it is for all our taonga.

“As technology advances, our conservators and archivists learn more about the taonga and how to care for them,” she said.

Hone Sadler

‘It has been on a very long and arduous journey’

Ngapuhi elder and academic Hone Sadler said it was treated like a “door stop” in the years following its signing.

“It has been on a very long and arduous journey – and it hasn’t been treated well. We now have at Waitangi a couple of museums that can be upgraded to ensure that there is no more decaying of the documents.”

Returning the documents to Ngapuhi was of the utmost importance, he said.

“The documents have been treated by Ngapuhi as being a covenant. A covenant is a sacred document, and generally, covenants are made with God. With regard to the Treaty, our tupuna placed their souls and minds on those documents in terms of moving forward into the future. Thus, Ngapuhi has taken on the task of being the caretaker, or guardian. It’s a sacred document.”

Most of the signatures on the document are the tā moko, or facial tattoos, of chiefs because not many people were literate at the time the Treaty was signed, he said.

“Beyond that, they really believed it going to be part and parcel of this [country] going forward.”

Of equal importance was the return of of He Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, signed by Northern rangatira in 1835 to establish an independent Māori nation.

“It was the inductory agreement. If we apply a whakapapa frame work to it, He Whakaputanga is the matua and Te Tiriti is the tamaiti. The Treaty was born out of He Whakaputanga.” Sadler said.

Morehu said Archives New Zealand will ensure those tūpuna will have the manaaki they need to ensure access and care for future generations to come.

“The tūpuna, whose signatures are forever bound to the kōrero of these parchments, will guide us as we move towards the 200-year anniversaries. Wherever these tūpuna may rest in the future, we recognise the significance and impact on the people of Aotearoa,” she said.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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