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United Tribes of New Zealand

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Title: United Tribes of New Zealand  
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Subject: Ngāti Tama, Immigration to New Zealand, Treaty of Waitangi, 1830s, October 28
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United Tribes of New Zealand

United Tribes flag flying at Waitangi

The United Tribes of New Zealand was a loose confederation of Māori tribes based in the north of the North Island.


The confederation was convened in 1834 by British Resident James Busby. Busby was sent to New Zealand in 1833 by the Colonial Office to serve as the official British Resident, and was anxious to set up a framework for trade between Māori and Europeans; the Māori chiefs of northern part of the North Island agreed to meet with him in March 1834. Rumours began spreading that the Frenchman, Baron Charles de Thierry, was going to set up an independent state at Hokianga. The United Tribes declared their independence on 28 October 1835 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.[1] In 1836, the British Crown under King William IV recognized the United Tribes and its flag. Busby's efforts were entirely too successful – as the islands settled down, the British began to consider an outright annexation. In February 1840, a number of chiefs of the United Tribes convened at Waitangi to sign the Treaty of Waitangi.[2]

By 1839, the Declaration of the United Tribes had 52 signatories from Northland and a few signatories from other parts, notably from the ariki of the Waikato Tainui, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.[3] During the Musket Wars (1807 – 1842), Ngāpuhi and other tribes raided and occupied many parts of North Island but eventually reverted to their previous territorial status as other tribes acquired European weapons.

From a New Zealand standpoint under the settler government, the Confederation has been considered to have been assimilated into a new entity after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Declaration is viewed in large part as merely a historical document.[1] In recent times, questions have risen regarding the relevance of the Declaration in constitutional matters.[4]

Modern developments

As of October 2010, Ngāpuhi's claim that sovereignty was not given up in their signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is being investigated by the Waitangi Tribunal.[5] The Waitangi Tribunal, in Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040)[6] 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.

Many of the arguments being used are outlined in Paul Moon's 2002 book Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi, which argued that not only did the Maori signatories have no intention of transferring sovereignty, but that at the time the British government and James Busby did not wish to acquire it and that the developments and justifications leading to the present state were later developments.[7] It is estimated that the hearings will last between four and six years, and may serve a serious precedent for all Maori tribal groups if the Tribunal recognizes Ngāpuhi sovereignty. A common Ngāpuhi interpretation of the Declaration of the United Tribes is that the British government was simply recognizing Māori independence and putting the world on check, merely re-asserting sovereignty that had existed from "time immemorial".[8]


The original 1834 design for the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, currently used as a flag by Māori groups in New Zealand
The amended flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, New Zealand's first flag, gazetted in 1835 and based on the design selected in 1834
The flag pole at Waitangi, flying (left - right) the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Ensign of the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Union Flag, 5 February 2006

The idea of a flag to represent New Zealand first arose when the New Zealand-built trading ship Sir George Murray was seized in Sydney for sailing without a flag or register in 1830. British navigation laws applied in Australia and ruled that every ship must carry an official certificate that included the nationality of the ship. New Zealand was not yet a British colony, so could not sail under a British flag or register. With no flag to represent the islands, trading ships and their cargoes could be confiscated.[9] While a temporary licence was granted for the Sir George Murray by New South Wales authorities, it was clear that a more permanent solution was needed. Busby was approached by Maori chiefs in 1833 about the matter of a flag. Busby asked Reverend Williams and the Colonial Secretary Richard Bourke in New South Wales for assistance, and, with additional consultation with tribal leaders, three designs were drawn up.

On 20 March 1834, three designs were put to 25 northern Maori chiefs at Waitangi by James Busby and Captain Lambert of the man-of-war HMS Alligator. By a vote of 12-10-3, the design now widely known as the United Tribes Flag was chosen.[10] British, American, and French representatives witnessed the ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute from the Alligator.[11]

The flag was based in part on the [14] This version of the flag served as the de facto national flag of New Zealand from 1835 until the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840.[15]

The version of the flag with black fimbriation and eight-pointed stars is widely used today as a flag by Māori groups throughout New Zealand, who also refer to it as the He Whakaputanga flag.

The flag features on the medals presented to soldiers who served in the South African War (1899–1902).[16]

In July 2009 it was proposed as one of four possible designs for an official Māori flag at a series of hui around New Zealand. The flag is also occasionally encountered with black or white fimbriation and six-pointed stars.

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry, Waitangi Tribunal
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "History", Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  • Colenso, W. (1890). The Authentic and Genuine History of the Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington. p. 19.
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