Waitangi Tribunal
Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti
Agency overview
HeadquartersWellington, New Zealand
Employees60 (excluding members)
Parent departmentSpecial Jurisdictions
Parent agencyMinistry of Justice
Key document
WebsiteTribunal website

The Waitangi Tribunal (Māori: Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti o Waitangi) is a New Zealand permanent commission of inquiry established under the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. It is charged with investigating and making recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown, in the period largely since 1840, that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.[1] The Tribunal is not a court of law;[2] therefore, the Tribunal's recommendations and findings are not binding on the Crown. They are sometimes not acted on, for instance in the foreshore and seabed dispute.

The inquiry process contributes to the resolution of Treaty claims and to the reconciliation of outstanding issues between Māori and Pākehā. In 2014, the Tribunal found that Ngāpuhi rangatira did not give up their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.


In 1975, protests from indigenous peoples about unresolved Treaty of Waitangi grievances had been increasing for some time, and the Tribunal was set up to provide a legal process for the investigation of those grievances.[1] Matiu Rata, a Minister of Māori Affairs in the early 1970s, took a leading role in the Tribunal's creation.[3]

Originally the Tribunal could investigate grievances only since 1975, but in 1985, a law change meant the Tribunal's jurisdiction was extended back to 1840, the date of the Waitangi Treaty.[4] The subsequent findings of many Treaty breaches by the Crown in various inquiries led to a public backlash against the Tribunal. The Tribunal has often been a political issue in the 1990s and 2000s.[5]

Originally a Tribunal investigation and report was a prerequisite for a Treaty settlement, but in 1999, to speed up settlements, parliament changed the process so that claimants could go straight to settlement with the Office of Treaty Settlements without engaging in the Tribunal process. This was an increasingly popular short-cut to settlement in the face of the slow Tribunal process. The deadline for submitting historical claims was 1 September 2008, but contemporary claims can still be filed.[5]


Historians loathe giving precision to past motives and intentions: they deal with the inevitable ambiguity and unknown when writing about the past; they analyse past events from the perspective of someone at the time, and try to avoid presentism - judging the past by contempory values. Lawyers, however, seek certainty and finality. There is therefore an inherent contradiction in how the Treaty is interpreted for today's audience.[6]

Key points

Organisational structure and powers

Investigatory powers

The Waitangi Tribunal is not a court. Since it was established as a permanent commission of inquiry, its method of investigation differs significantly from that of a court in several important respects:

The Tribunal process is inquisitorial, not adversarial. It seeks to get to the truth of the matter. The aim is to determine whether a claim is well founded.

Tribunal members

Main category: Members of the Waitangi Tribunal

The Tribunal may have a chairperson and up to 20 members at any one time. Members are appointed by the Governor-General on behalf of the Monarch on the recommendation of the Minister of Māori Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Justice, for a renewable term of up to three years. For specific inquiries, a panel is composed of three to seven members, at least one of whom must be Māori. The chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal can also appoint a Māori Land Court judge to act as presiding officer. This panel is then known as the Tribunal for that inquiry, e.g. the Central North Island Tribunal or the Taranaki Tribunal.

As of March 2024, the membership of the Tribunal was:[12]

The Waitangi Tribunal Unit

The Waitangi Tribunal Unit is a special jurisdiction unit of the Ministry of Justice which provides support and services necessary for the Tribunal to do its work. Approximately 60 full-time staff work at the Tribunal, who are divided into the research, corporate and support services, claims and registration, report writing, and editorial teams.[13]

Notable tribunal inquiries

Taonga and the Wai 26 and 150 claim regarding radio frequencies

In June 1986, the Waitangi Tribunal received the Wai 26 claim that the Treaty of Waitangi was breached by the Crown who failed to await recommendations within the Tribunal's te reo Māori (1986) report before introducing a bill on the Māori language. This raised dispute as Māori were concerned that the bill might preempt and therefore not fully take into account the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal report.[14] The second part of the claim identified that Te reo Māori held taonga status and the (then) Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand "had not provided adequately for Māori radio listeners and television viewers." when the Crown had an obligation to uphold and promote te reo Māori through electronic mediums.

In June 1990, claim Wai 150 was lodged by Sir Graham Latimer on behalf of the New Zealand Māori Council. The claim was in respect of the Rangatiratanga over the allocation of radio frequencies; the claim being that in the absence of an agreement with the Māori, the sale of frequency management licences under the Radiocommunications Act 1989 would be in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi; denying Māori rights to the radio spectrum would therefore deny an instrumental means of providing te reo Māori to New Zealand. The Waitangi Tribunal amalgamated the Wai 26 with the Wai 150 claim. The final report of the Tribunal recommended that the Crown suspend the radio frequency tender process and proceed to negotiate with the Iwi.[15]

Ngāi Tahu claim

The Ngāi Tahu Maori Trust Board filed the claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986. The claim covered nine different areas and was heard over two years from 1987. The Tribunal released its three-volume report in 1991 – at that time it was the tribunal's most comprehensive inquiry. It found that "the Crown acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty of Waitangi" in its land dealings with the tribe, and recommended substantial compensation. Ngāi Tahu also filed a claim in regards to commercial fisheries, in regards to which the Tribunal released its report in 1993. Ngāi Tahu settled with the Crown in 1998, and received $170 million in compensation, an apology, and the return of its sacred mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook (the tribe later gifted this back to the Nation).[16]

The Wai 262 claim in respect of mātauranga Māori

On 2 July 2011, the Tribunal released its long-awaited report into the Wai 262 claim: "Ko Aotearoa Tēnei" (‘This is Aotearoa’ or ‘This is New Zealand’).[17] The Wai 262 claim concerns the ownership of, and rights to, mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in respect of indigenous flora and fauna. The Wai 262 claim, and the subsequent Ko Aotearoa Tēnei report, is unusual in Tribunal terms because of its wide scope and the contemporary nature of the issues being grappled with. It was the Tribunal's first 'whole-of-government' inquiry, and considers more than 20 government departments and agencies, and makes recommendations as to reforms of "laws, policies or practices relating to health, education, science, intellectual property, indigenous flora and fauna, resource management, conservation, the Māori language, arts and culture, heritage, and the involvement of Māori in the development of New Zealand's positions on international instruments affecting indigenous rights."[18]

In the cover letter of the report, the Tribunal argues that:

"[w]hat we saw and heard in sittings over many years left us in no doubt that unless it is accepted that New Zealand has two founding cultures, not one; unless Māori culture and identity are valued in everything government says and does; and unless they are welcomed into the very centre of the way we do things in this country, nothing will change. Māori will continue to be perceived, and know they are perceived, as an alien and resented minority, a problem to be managed with a seemingly endless stream of taxpayer-funded programmes, but never solved."[18]

Water and geothermal rights inquiry

This section needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (December 2013)

The New Zealand Māori Council brought the claim before the Tribunal in early 2012, arguing that the sale of 49 per cent of Mighty River Power (now Mercury Energy), Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy would prejudice any possible future recognition of Māori rights in water and geothermal resources. On 1 August 2012, the Tribunal released a memorandum finding that the government should temporarily halt its asset sales programme until it had released its interim full report.[19] The pre-publications report was subsequently released on 24 August, and suggested that the government should postpone the asset sales programme until the issue had been resolved with Māori around the country. This finding was reached on the basis that, if the government were to proceed with the partial-privatisation programme, it would reduce its ability to resolve outstanding claims to water and geothermal rights. In terms of potential avenues for resolution, the Tribunal recommended a national hui be called so that all parties to the dispute could voice their positions.

‘[T]here is a nexus between the asset to be transferred (shares in the power companies) and the Māori claim (to rights in the water used by the power companies), sufficient to require a halt if the sale would put the issue of rights recognition and remedy beyond the Crown’s ability to deliver.’[20]

In response to the findings of The Tribunal, the National Government postponed the float of Mighty River Power until early 2013, but rejected calls for a national hui and the "shares plus" idea. Nevertheless, a hui was called for September 2012, but no representatives from the Government or the National Party attended. The issue was taken to court, with the courts ultimately ruling that the partial privatisation programme would not affect the Crown's ability to provide redress to Maori, so the sales could continue.[citation needed]

Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry

The Tribunal, Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040)[21] is in the process of considering the Māori and Crown understandings of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga / The Declaration of Independence 1835 and Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi 1840. This aspect of the inquiry raises issues as to the nature of sovereignty and whether the Māori signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi intended to transfer sovereignty.[22]

The first stage of the report was released in November 2014. It found that Ngāpuhi chiefs never agreed to give up their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.[23] Tribunal manager Julie Tangaere said at the report's release to the Ngāpuhi claimants:

"Your tupuna [ancestors] did not give away their mana at Waitangi, at Waimate, at Mangungu. They did not cede their sovereignty. This is the truth you have been waiting a long time to hear."[23]

COVID-19 pandemic

On 19 November 2021, several members of the New Zealand Māori Council including Archdeacon Harvey Ruru and Tā Edward Durie filed an application for an urgent inquiry by the Waitangi Tribunal into Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand for Māori. The plaintiffs argued that the Government's vaccination rollout policies and plans to ease lockdown restrictions in December 2021 placed Māori at risk.[24]

On 21 December, the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that the Government's vaccination rollout and "traffic light system" breached the Treaty of Waitangi's principles of active protection and equity. The Tribunal criticised the Government's decision to prioritise those aged over 65 years and with health conditions during the vaccine rollout, arguing that they failed to address the youthful nature of the Māori population and its health vulnerabilities. The Tribunal also ruled that the Government's transition to the "traffic light system" failed to take into account the lower Māori vaccination rate and health needs. The Tribunal also found that Government had not adequately consulted with Māori health providers and leaders and determined that efforts to address Māori needs such as the "Māori communities Covid-19 fund" were inadequate. The Waitangi Tribunal recommended that the Government improve data collection, improve engagement with the Māori community, and provided better support for ongoing vaccination efforts, testing, contact tracing, and support for Māori infected with COVID-19. The Tribunal's ruling was welcomed by the Māori Council.[25][26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Past, present, & future of the Waitangi Tribunal". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Past, present, & future of the Waitangi Tribunal". Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  3. ^ Derby, Mark (13 July 2012). "Forming the Waitangi Tribunal, 1970s". Te Ara. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  4. ^ "The Treaty debated – the Treaty in practice". New Zealand History online. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Waitangi Tribunal – Te Rōpū Whakamana - Tribunal changes, 1988". Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  6. ^ Grant, Kayla (1 January 2018). "A Finding of Fact? The Risks of Courts Settling Uncertain Histories". Auckland University Law Review. 24. Wiki Library: Te Mata Koi: 149–150.
  7. ^ Temm Q.C., Paul (1990). The Waitangi Tribunal: The Conscience of the Nation. Auckland: Random Century New Zealand Limited. pp. 5, 7–8.
  8. ^ Waitangi Tribunal FAQ
  9. ^ "Office of Treaty Settlements". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Treaty of Waitangi Settlement Process'. [PDF], p. 8". Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Claims Process". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Members of the Waitangi Tribunal | Waitangi Tribunal". waitangitribunal.govt.nz. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  13. ^ "Waitangi Tribunal Unit". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Report of The Waitangi Tribunal on Claims Concerning the Allocation of Radio Frequencies. [PDF], pp. 4, 8-9" (PDF). Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  15. ^ "Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on Claims Concerning the Allocation of Radio Frequencies" (PDF). Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  16. ^ Ministry of Culture and Heritage. "The Ngāi Tahu claim – the Treaty in practice". NZ History. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  17. ^ "Time to Move beyond Grievance in Treaty Relationship". 2 July 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  18. ^ a b "Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: Report on the Wai 262 Claim Released". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  19. ^ "National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources Inquiry". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  20. ^ "National Freshwater and Geothermal Resource Inquiry". 1 June 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) Claims and geographical area". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  22. ^ Paul Moon (2002) Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi
  23. ^ a b "Ngapuhi 'never gave up sovereignty'". The Northland Age. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  24. ^ Tahana, Jamie (19 November 2021). "Urgent inquiry sought into govt's pandemic response for Māori". Radio New Zealand. Archived from the original on 19 November 2021. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  25. ^ Tahana, Jamie (21 December 2021). "Details from Waitangi Tribunal report on government's Covid-19 response". Radio New Zealand. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  26. ^ Neilson, Michael (21 December 2021). "Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Waitangi Tribunal says Crown 'actively breaching' Treaty in Covid response for Māori". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 22 December 2021.