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.

The sesquicentenary year of the signing of the treaty of Waitangi, 1990 began with much fanfare. Auckland hosted the Commonwealth Games with an opening ceremony that portrayed New Zealand's beginnings and clearly placed it as a Pacific nation. The elderly kuia Dame Whina Cooper then made a speech about the Treaty of Waitangi having brought about peace and stability of modern New Zealand.  Following the highly successful games a carnival –Sesqui - opened in Wellington. Billed by promoters as 'New Zealand's biggest event ever' it was a joint venture between the Wellington Show Association and the 1990 Trust - a high-powered regional organisation. Intended to run for six weeks and launched with a spectacular fireworks display Sesqui had budgeted for 30,000 visitors a day. These numbers proved fanciful and Sesqui closed after only two weeks with debts of $6.4 million. The closest it got to meeting its anticipated attendance was when 32,000 visitors took advantage of a decision to waive all entry fees for the day. Many days the numbers struggled to reach 5000.

The contrast between 1940 and 1990 couldn't be more striking. Critics of Sesqui argued that it was no more than a mediocre trade fair that reflected little of New Zealand society or heritage; the Centennial Exhibition was a triumph of national spirit and pride. Many asked what had changed in the intervening years. From the 1970s the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day changed as debate intensified as to the place of the Treaty in New Zealand in the closing years of the twentieth century. Waitangi Day for some had become synonymous with protest and grievance. As the Treaty settlements process intensified some also questioned the financial cost to the nation of settling these historical grievances. This process perhaps highlighted how little many people really understood about the Treaty which contributed to a sense of fear and suspicion of a process that some saw as never ending.

2015 marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It will be another opportunity to gauge the thoughts and feelings of New Zealanders towards the Treaty but this time against the backdrop of nearly a generation of Treaty settlements

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. It is important to look beyond a very basic narrative of events in February 1840. 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. Teaching the Treaty in isolation is meaningless so it is important to help students locate it in their place, their community.

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.

The curriculum 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. 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 and avoid looking at the critical settlements process. To ensure this is considered it might be useful to start 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 history

The Treaty of Waitangi is both an historical event and place that is of significance to New Zealanders. As such it provides students with a context in which to explore a number of achievement objectives. The Treaty is a contested event of significance to New Zealanders and as such provides a meaningful context for learning that enables students to examine the causes and consequences of its signing for New Zealand and New Zealanders. As a contested event of significance to New Zealanders it is also an ideal way of exploring different perspectives to a significant historical event which has greatly affected New Zealand society.

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

More classroom topics

How to cite this page

'Classroom ideas - Waitangi Day', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/waitangi-day/classroom-ideas, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 22-Dec-2014