This page gives a broad outline of how teachers and students of social studies and history can use material on the Treaty of Waitangi. There are many resources available to help teachers prepare for themes about the Treaty. The material given here is authoritative and accessible. It is written and organised to help users quickly find the information that is most relevant to their needs.

This is not an exhaustive list of teaching activities but some ideas to help busy teachers get started.

We welcome feedback. Please use the comments box at the bottom of this page.

The Treaty of Waitangi

Ever since its signing in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi has continued to make an indelible mark on our national story. Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate. During the 1940 Centennial, Sir Apirana Ngata stated 'I do not know of any year the Maori people have approached with so much misgiving as this Centennial Year ... In retrospect what does the Maori see? Lands gone, the power of chiefs humbled in the dust, Maori culture scattered and broken.' From the 1970s, protests about the Treaty increased as many Maori called for the terms of the Treaty to be honoured. An understanding of the Treaty, and its associated themes, is essential to gain a greater understanding of New Zealand history and society.

This material is valuable to teachers and students studying at various levels. It includes:

Additional topics on Pre-1840 contact are also recommended.

Social studies

The Treaty of Waitangi is an integral part of the social studies programme in many schools. The challenge is to avoid Treaty fatigue, which can result from the repetition of the same information year after year. I would often have Year 9 or 10 students tell me that they had ‘done’ the Treaty of Waitangi. I often asked what ‘doing the Treaty’ meant. Beyond a very basic narrative of events in February 1840, the answer was not a lot.

Teaching the Treaty in isolation is meaningless. The historical context is important, but for many students, starting with what they already know or think may be more useful and may help avoid the repetition of basic facts. They might be aware of conversations around the dinner table or in the media about the Treaty; any questions they have could be a good place to start.

Think about the age and knowledge of your students and what they might be able to understand. For classes below Level 4, the Treaty might be best dealt with as part of a study of celebrations and ceremonies. From your diagnostic work you will know what your class can handle, but be aware of other curriculum levels and what your students might learn about the Treaty in the following years. This can also help reduce repetition.

With a new curriculum just around the corner, it is perhaps questionable how much time and attention you want to pay to the old achievement objectives. This is still the official curriculum, so you might want to continue with the status quo. The new draft curriculum mentions the Treaty of Waitangi specifically at Level 5. It talks about how ‘the Treaty of Waitangi is responded to differently by people in different times and places' and confirms that any study of the Treaty really needs to address the present as well as the past.

In 'Time, continuity and change' at Level 4, students look at the Treaty as an event that has shaped the lives of a group of people. Key to this is examining cause and effect and how and why people experience this event in different ways. At Level 5 this strand develops thinking further by looking at how an event from the past has influenced the relationships within and between groups of people and, more importantly, how it continues to influence them. This is where it is essential to ensure that our teaching ideas explore the present. Students need to see how the Treaty is important to them and how it continues to influence New Zealand society. If we keep it as a 19th-century study, we fail to convey the important fact that the Treaty of Waitangi is a living document.

Examining the Treaty settlement process can be really helpful as it starts with the present and works backwards. A case study approach on a settlement allows students to bring the big story down to a more manageable and relevant level.

Te Ara: the encyclopedia of New Zealand is also a very useful online resource where you can find histories for each iwi that include information about their contact with Europeans.

For more detail about specific activities on this topic go to social studies, Treaty of Waitangi activities in The Classroom.  

NCEA Level 3 history

For students studying New Zealand in the 19th century, the Treaty of Waitangi and its implications are key parts of this broad survey. This material provides students with a context for:

  • Achievement standard 3.4: Signing the Treaty of Waitangi was a significant historical decision, and it was one of the key decisions for life in 19th-century New Zealand.
  • Achievement standard 3.3: Students can analyse and evaluate evidence in historical sources as the different versions of the Treaty have been subject to ongoing debate and analysis.
  • For those schools not studying 19th-century New Zealand, this material could be used in a research assignment for achievement standards 3.1 and 3.2.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this topic go to Treaty of Waitangi activities NCEA Level 3 history.

NCEA Level 2 history

For students studying New Zealand history at NCEA Level 2, the Treaty of Waitangi is central to a number of topics and associated achievement standards, including:

  • Innovation and interference: Maori economic activity 1816
  • Maori participation in international theatres of war in the 20th century
  • From colony to nation: New Zealand government 1840-1947
  • The search for political unity: Maori socio-political structures 1900-90
  • Maori leadership of the 19th century
  • The growth of New Zealand identity 1890-1980
  • Tino rangatiratanga/sovereignty: New Zealand and the Maori nation 1984-99. This material could also be used in a research assignment for achievement standards 2.1 and 2.2.

More classroom topics

  • For other resources for all teachers and students see The Classroom.