On February 6th, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by 45 chiefs at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. The Treaty was eventually signed by over 500 Maori throughout the country. It proved to be a flawed document, however, and was never officially ratified by Great Britain. Differences between the Maori and the English text were profound, because some concepts could not be translated between the two languages.
Maori believed they still had the right to govern their own resources and affairs, while the British understood that they would be imposing British government. Later legislation removed many of the guarantees that Maori had been given under the Treaty.
Ngai Tahu fared very badly after the signing of the Treaty, losing nearly all their land through various unscrupulous dealings by both the government and private citizens.
All over New Zealand, loss of land and disappointment over the Treaty resulted in the land wars of the nineteenth century. Many Maori were unjustly imprisoned or killed, and many tribes had further land taken (often without justification) as war reparations.
Finally, in 1975, after over a century of hardship and land loss, the New Zealand government formed the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate Maori grievances. For Ngai Tahu, loss of land and a longstanding dispute over the ownership of pounamu (greenstone) had never been resolved.
Various unsatisfactory solutions to Ngai Tahu grievances had been tried since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the Waitangi tribunal was established that the tribe was able to make a realistic claim for lost resources. The claim process lasted from 1987 until 1998, when it was settled under the Ngai Tahu Settlement Act. The settlement provided monetary compensation, confirmed the tribe’s ownership of pounamu and returned the sacred maunga (mountain) of Aoraki ( Mt Cook) to Ngai Tahu ownership.
The government also made a formal apology to Ngai Tahu for the hardships the tribe had endured.