Maori Health And The Treaty Of Waitangi

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During the period of the late 1830s, it was noted that there was an increasing population of British immigrants entering and settling in New Zealand. As a result of the substantial influx of British migrants, there was a great demand for land in order to develop settlements. This lead to extensive land transactions with the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori. As time progressed, disorderly behaviour and actions by the migrants, as well as news that the French were intent on gaining control of New Zealand spread through the country. This resulted in tension between the Māori and non- Māori communities. It was noted that the British Government were originally unwilling to take action in resolving the on- going tension in the land. However, the British crown recognized that appropriating New Zealand would result in the protection of the Māori, control and management of the British migrants, as well as assure the commercial and trade interests of the British Empire. The manner in which this was conceived, was through the formulation of the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

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One of the original founding documents of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi), derives its title from the area of land where it was first signed, the Waitangi Bay of islands. The Treaty was signed on the sixth of February 1840, and serves as a mutual understanding and agreement between the British Government and the Five hundred and forty Māori Rangatira (chiefs) of New Zealand.

The proposed leader of securing British Sovereignty over New Zealand was Lieutenant- Governor William Hobson. He received guidance, recommendations and support from a number of leaders and commoners, The most well-known being James Busby, a British citizen residing in New Zealand. Busby’s main duties, while residing in New Zeaalnd, ‘were to protect the more orderly British settlers and traders and prevent ‘outrages’ by the less orderly Europeans against Maori’. Taking into consideration his knowledge of the Māori culture and belief’s, he aided William Hobson draft the Treaty of Waitangi which was produced in just a few days. The English version was then translated into Māori overnight by Henry Williams (a Missionary) and his son Edward on the Fourth of February 1840. The Treaty consists of three articles. ‘ Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects’.

The benefits and advantages of the Treaty were promoted while the effects of British rule on the rangatiratanga (the chiefly authority) was understated. Thus many chiefs supported the agreement made in the treaty, understanding that their position would be improved and strengthened in the country. Beginning with chief Hōne Heke, about 40 other chiefs signed the Treaty on the Sixth of February and by September Five Hundred more had signed the copied documentation that had been circulated across the country. A few of the chiefs signed it with uncertainty, some refused to sign it, while others did not receive the chance to sign due to unforeseen circumstances. It was later decided by the Colonial Office in England that the Treaty of Waitangi was relevant to all Māori tribes, regardless if they had signed or not. On the Twenty First of May 1840, British rule over New Zealand was established. 

There are four cornerstones on which Maori health models are constructed, these include:

  1. Whänau (family health) – The capacity to belong, to care and to share where individuals are part of wider social systems. Understanding the importance of whānau and how whānau (family) can result in illness/disease and how it can also aid in treating/curing an illness is essential to comprehending Māori health issues. 
  2. Tinana (physical health) -The capacity for physical growth and development. Our physical bodies encapsulate our inner being and self, and shelters us from our surroundings. For Māori, the physical aspect of health is not seen as separated from the mind, spiritual and family aspects of health.
  3. Hinengaro (mental health) – The capacity to communicate, to think and to feel mind and body are inseparable. This aspect relates to the perception of how Maori see themselves in relation to the universe, their unique Maori interactions and the way in which others see them.
  4. Wairua (spiritual health) – The capacity for faith and wider communication. This aspect of health is related to inexplicable energies. A traditional Māori will analyse the spiritual aspect of health to determine if it may be a contributing factor to illness or a to cure. 

In modern health care services and models, there is neglect of the spiritual dimension (Wairua) when it comes to the assessment and treatment of illnesses. This is due to the dominance of the non- Maori (Pakeha) practice of medicine and health services in the country, which has resulted in a reduction in the appreciation of the Maori perception of health. This in combination with socio-economic conditions and genetics, has statistically shown that Maori health care compares poorly with that of non- Maori people. With this in mind, ‘Reducing the health inequalities that affect Maori is a key priority for New Zealand’s Ministry of Health’.

Thus the Maori Health Strategy of New Zealand (He Korowai Oranga) was developed and based on the three fundamental principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, in order to improve the health care provided to Maori people and allow them to be more involved with health care provision.

According to the Treaty of Waitangi, there are three principles which are outlined. These are Partnership, Participation and Protection.

  1. Partnership – involves working together with iwi, hapū, whānau and Māori communities to develop strategies for Māori health gain and appropriate health and disability services. 
  2. Participation – requires Māori to be involved at all levels of the health and disability sector, including in decision-making, planning, development and delivery of health and disability services. 
  3. Protection – involves the Government working to ensure Māori have at least the same level of health as non-Māori, and safeguarding Māori cultural concepts, values and practices. 
16 August 2021

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