How to talk to your kids about: The Treaty of Waitangi

Why talk about the Treaty?

In recent years you may have noticed more Te Reo Māori being spoken on the radio and TV. Your child might have come home from school with some plastic bag poi and some new songs. You might even find yourself trying to work out what Māori place names mean. Place names like Wanganui – big harbour. Rotorua – two lakes. Greymouth – river mouth of the Grey river. Learning Māori is fun and chances are your kids love it too.

Read more

Whenever we engage with Te Ao Māori it reminds us of the unique story of Aotearoa. There is a Māori proverb or whakatauki that says, “Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua”. It basically means that we walk backwards into our future with our eyes fixed on our past. Picture a rollerblader holding a rearview mirror, skating backwards while reading the Penguin History of New Zealand. That’s pretty much what the whakatauki is getting at. So let’s all be more like that guy and look back into our past.

What is the Treaty of Waitangi?

A ‘Treaty’ is a legal document. ‘Waitangi’ is the place where it was signed. ‘The’ and ‘of’ are short joining words. Learning about the Treaty is really interesting and every New Zealander should know a bit about it. What most people already know is that after the Europeans showed up in Aotearoa, life changed a lot for both Māori and Pakeha.

Some Māori thought that their lives would be better if things could just go back to how they were. Some Europeans thought that if they could have New Zealand to themselves everything would be heaps better. Fortunately, there were some Māori and some Europeans who realised that they both had a lot they could learn from each other and if they could work out a way to share New Zealand, then things could actually be great for everyone!

So the British decided that they should sign some sort of contract with the Māori. On the fourth of February 1840, it was written, it was discussed on the fifth, and on the sixth, it was signed – and now we all get a day off work at the end of summer. There were a few other implications as well but for lots of kids the best thing is the day off school.

Work out what you think

Children tend to think the same stuff you think. For example, if you think that food expiration dates are just a guide and not a strict rule then your children will be drinking curdled milk for years to come. What you think matters, because it will almost certainly affect what your children grow up thinking.

Now we are not going to tell you what you should think about the Treaty of Waitangi. But we will tell you what you shouldn’t think about it, and that is – nothing. One of the worst things to think about the Treaty is that it’s not important to think about the Treaty.

There are lots of people out there with lots of different opinions. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people think it’s a powerful dream for two peoples living together and some people just wish it said more about health and safety in the workplace (those people don’t get invited to dinner parties – or to Treaty signings).

Your children are going to pick up your thoughts and attitudes about all sorts of things in life – food they should eat, sports teams they should support and the correct pronunciation of ‘Tauranga’. If we can pass our country’s history on to our children then they will be better prepared for the future and maybe even help create a better future for everyone. That all starts with families understanding the Treaty of Waitangi.

How to talk about it

Talking about the Treaty with your children might be different if you are Māori or if you’re Pakeha – or if you don’t have children. If your family has moved here from a different country, it might feel unfamiliar and tricky to engage with. It might not even feel applicable. But if you’ve made Aotearoa your home, the Treaty does affect you – here are some ways to start the conversation.

Tell them the story

Not every child loves discussing politics, history or the translation differences in Article Two. But they do love stories. Our history is a story. Tell them stories about our country so that they can see how they are a part of it. There are lots of books out there that tell our story, but we recommend that you check out the The Chronicles of Paki Series One. They are aimed at children but you will almost certainly learn something too.

Place them in the story

Paint scenarios and ask questions that help your child engage with the idea of ownership and sharing. They could imagine they live on a beautiful beach and can surf every day on uncrowded waves. Then one day people show up and want to live on the beach and surf the waves too. Is that fair? How would you make that work for everyone?

What if you turned up to a playground and there were already kids playing on it. You want to play as well. Is that fair? How could you make that work for everyone? Obviously the Treaty is far more complex than that but it can help open up the conversation that you want to have. Or maybe you could explain it like this –

Give them an analogy

If your child has ever been to a wedding then you could use that as an analogy. A marriage is when two very different people make a whole lot of promises to each other so that they can make one relationship work. That is sort of what a Treaty is.

Making a marriage work isn’t easy. It is learning to see through the eyes of our partner, being willing to compromise and learning to put the interests of our partner ahead of our own. When we’re able to do this, we are building healthy relationships.

We haven’t always been able to make the partnership work as was promised in the Treaty, but we still think that the Treaty of Waitangi is a beautiful dream of two peoples living peacefully together in one land. We hope that you can help your children to value the beautiful dream of the Treaty too.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.


About Author

James Beck

James Beck is our Kaihanga o Ngā Mea/Content Director. He’s been part of our team for 10 years now. James started his time here as an Attitude presenter and has reached over 200,000 people in schools, prisons and workplaces all over the country. You may have caught him on radio, TV or even read one of his many articles. James has also recently authored a (very funny) children’s book, Eliza Loves Rocks. Anyone who’s heard James speak will remember him for his unique sense of humour, which he credits his rural upbringing for. It has been a key to helping him connect with people from all walks of life. James is passionate about helping people reach their full potential.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, I just came across your post at a time where I am teaching my son about the Treaty and I loved your post – you didn’t share the intricate details of the Treaty but helped in the way I can teach it to my son without a biased view that I may have had growing up with misinformation and emotion passed down with it.

    Thank you!

Leave A Reply