The Treaty Of Waitangi As A Fundamental Document For Maori People

Although New Zealand was originally discovered by a Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman in 1642, his crew were shortly killed by the native Maori warriors seeing the intrusion as an attack. It was not until 1840 that British naval captain, William Hobson, formally annexed the Bay of Islands, with their first permanent settlement located at Wellington. Shortly after arriving, in February 1840, Hobson along with his secretary James Freeman drew up what would ultimately become the Treaty of Waitangi. The official Treaty of Waitangi was translated into Maori and presented to over 500 Maori chiefs. Upon signing the treaty, this ultimately recognised the British sovereignty in exchange for possession of their land. It was fundamentally a treaty of cessation which transferred all control from the Maori people to the British Crown, facilitating British rule, colonization, and the establishment of British systems of governance, land tenure, law, and social development.

Maori health models are founded on four cornerstones of well-being, hinengaro (mental well-being), wairua (spiritual well-being), whanau (family well-being) and tinana, (physical well-being). If one of these elements are absent or damaged, the person may become “unbalanced” which can lead to becoming unwell. Taha Tinana focuses on our physical well-being, protecting us from the external environment.

Taha Wairu highlights the importance of the unseen and unspoken energies. This spiritual entity of a person is their life force determining who we are, what we are, where we have come from and where we are going.

Taha Whanau identifies the ability to belong, care, and share within a wider circle or family. This provides us with the strength to be who we are. Connecting us to our ancestors, our ties with the past, present and future.

Taha Hinengaro is our capacity to communicate and understand that mind and body are united.

He Korowai Oranga (New Zealand’s Maori Health Strategy) is based on three key principles, which integrates the values of the Treaty of Waitangi and an acknowledgement that Maori will have an important role in implementing health for Maori. The three principles are: Partnership, Participation, and Protection.

Partnership signifies the collaboration with iwi, hapu, whanau and Maori communities to create improved outcomes for Maori healthcare and appropriate health and disability services.

Participation refers to involving the Maori at all stages of the healthcare system including decision-making, planning, development and the overall delivery of health and disability services.

Protection signifies the importance of ensuring Maori have at least the same level of healthcare as non-Maori people, preserving Maori cultures, concepts, values, and practice.

The Treaty of Waitangi intended to safeguard and preserve the well-being of all citizens. Its health implications relating to procedures of good government and concepts of participation and equity are important. Since the 1970s, public awareness of the Treaty of Waitangi has progressively increased, largely as a result of growing Maori objectives for self-determination. In particular, it has been stated that the ongoing differences in health between Maoris and non-Maoris signify indicate that Maori health rights are not being protected as promised under the treaty and that social, cultural, economic, and political factors cannot be overlooked in terms of their effect on the health status of this group.

In recent government health documents, the indigenous status of Maoris has been recognized, and the Treaty of Waitangi has been acknowledged as a fundamental component of the relationship between Maoris and the government. However, the treaty has never been included in social policy legislation, and there is a clear gap between acceptance of the treaty and translation of its aims into actual health gains for Maoris.

Unfortunately, the Treaty itself was poorly translated, meaning lots of the principles were literally “lost in translation”. Most Maori chiefs signed a Maori-language version, however the English- and Maori-language versions held different meanings, therefore the Europeans and the Maori people had different interpretations and expectations form the same document.

In modern Maori health services, Wairua and Hinengaro, are often not considered as equal importance as the other two cornerstones. To Maori people, this creates a greater imbalance, affecting their overall health.

Inequalities in health between Maoris and non-Maoris have been apparent for all the colonial history of New Zealand. Although there have been significant developments in the past 140 years, recent evidence indicates that the overall gap in life expectancy between these groups is growing rather than shrinking. Explanations for these differences involve a complex mix of factors associated with socioeconomic and lifestyle characteristics, discrimination, and access to health care.

From the research regarding the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori people, one can understand the value of holistic care in order to create rapport, and ultimately provide the highest level of health care for both Maori and non-Maori people. This means not only looking at the person’s physical deficit, but the person’s mental, spiritual, and family circumstances in order to ensure all four cornerstones of their health are being acknowledged. This is an approach which is of great importance in New Zealand. 

16 August 2021
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