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 Māori and the English text were profound, because some concepts could not be translated between the two languages.
Māori 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 Māori had been given under the Treaty
Ngāi 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 Māori 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 Māori grievances. For Ngāi Tahu, loss of land and a longstanding dispute over the ownership of pounamu (greenstone) had never been resolved.
Various unsatisfactory solutions to Ngāi 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 Ngāi 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 Ngāi Tahu ownership.
The government also made a formal apology to Ngāi Tahu for the hardships the tribe had endured.