The Treaty established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognised Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. The English and Māori versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so there is no consensus as to exactly what was agreed to. From the British point of view, the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and gave the Governor the right to govern the country. Māori believed they ceded to the Crown a right of governance in return for protection, without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs. After the initial signing at Waitangi, copies of the Treaty were taken around New Zealand and over the following months many other chiefs signed. In total there are nine copies of the Treaty of Waitangi including the original signed on 6 February 1840. Around 500 chiefs, including at least 13 females, signed the Treaty of Waitangi.
Until the 1970s, the Treaty was generally ignored by both the courts and parliament, although it was usually depicted in New Zealand history as a generous act on the part of the Crown. From at least the 1860s, Māori have looked to the Treaty for rights and remedies for land loss and unequal treatment by the state, with little success. From the late 1960s Māori began drawing attention to breaches of the Treaty, and subsequent histories have emphasised problems with its translation. In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was established as a permanent commission of inquiry tasked with researching breaches of the Treaty by the Crown or its agents, and suggesting means of redress.
Today it is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Despite this, the Treaty is often the subject of heated debate. Many Māori feel that the Crown did not fulfill its obligations under the Treaty, and have presented evidence of this before sittings of the Tribunal. Some non-Māori New Zealanders have suggested that Māori may be abusing the Treaty in order to claim "special privileges". The Crown, in most cases, is not obliged to act on the recommendations of the Tribunal but nonetheless in many instances has accepted that it breached the Treaty and its principles. Settlements to date have consisted of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and assets, as well as apologies.
The date of the signing has been celebrated as a national holiday, now called Waitangi Day, since 1974.
Early in the 19th century, Māori were perturbed by the behaviour and intentions of traders, whalers and sealers who had come to the country, especially in the Bay of Islands. The introduction of muskets devastated the Māori population in a series of Musket Wars in the early 19th century. In 1831, thirteen chiefly rangatira from the far north of the country met at Kerikeri to compose a letter to King William IV asking for help to guard their lands. Specifically, the chiefs sought protection from the French, "the tribe of Marion", and it is the first known plea for British intervention, written by Māori. In response, the British Government sent James Busby in 1832 to be the British Resident in New Zealand. In 1834 Busby drafted a document known as the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand which he and 35 northern Māori chiefs signed at Waitangi on 28 October 1835, establishing those chiefs as representatives of a proto-state under the title of the "United Tribes of New Zealand". This document was not well received by the Colonial Office in Britain, and it was decided that a new policy for New Zealand was needed as a corrective.
From May to July 1836, Royal Navy officer Captain William Hobson, under instruction from Sir Richard Bourke, visited New Zealand to investigate claims of lawlessness in its...