Bringing Te Tiriti to life

Issue: Volume 99, Number 1

Posted: 31 January 2020
Reference #: 1HA4xr

Avondale College teacher Clementine Fraser shares how to make Te Tiriti o Waitangi come alive in learning programmes.


How we engage with Te Tiriti determines how our students engage with it. We want them to have a thorough, nuanced, and interested take on it. We want them to be keen to learn about it. 

I hear from many people how difficult it is to enthuse students about Te Tiriti and to that I say, “It doesn’t have to be!” Let’s get excited and make them engaged learners. 

Te Tiriti doesn’t just belong in the realm of social science. Once you are confident in your knowledge, you can engage with it in many different areas. Looking at contracts? Discuss the Treaty. Examining New Zealand literature? I think it’s pretty essential.

I believe before you teach about Te Tiriti there are several things to reflect on. Key to teaching it successfully is understanding why Te Tiriti is important and why we should be enthusiastic to include it in our learning programmes. 

  • It is the founding document of our nation – albeit an imperfect and broken one. 
  • It is a living document – the promises bound in it are still in action (or should be) today.
  • It has shaped our history, and therefore our national and personal identities, in a multitude of ways.
  • It is nearly unique in imperial histories of the 19th century.
  • The way society (and schools) discuss or value Te Tiriti reflects the way society values the place of Māori.

I advocate six main steps for teaching Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

Step 1: Know your stuff

This is the most challenging one, but the most essential. You need to know how and why the meanings of the words used in Te Tiriti and the Treaty differ. You need to know why the British sought to offer a treaty rather than colonise in the way they did pretty much everywhere else their empire spread. 

You should know that under international law (Contra Preferentium) the treaty in the indigenous language is held to have more weight in any dispute over meaning. 

If you don’t know your stuff, if you haven’t done the mahi, then you’re more likely to either skip including Te Tiriti in your courses or rush through it, not doing it justice. 

Step 2: Show them how much you love it

We all know students respond to teacher enthusiasm and passion for their subject. This is the easiest way to hook your students. Show them, too, that you value our history. Regardless of who sits in front of you.

Step 3: Use a wider context

Not just the broader history of New Zealand Aotearoa prior to 1840. Not just the reasons for Te Tiriti and the reactions to it. Engage with a wider context of imperialism, where New Zealand was the only British colony to have a treaty relating to sovereignty. 

A context where 50 years before Aborigines had been declared fauna, and where 40 years later the ‘Scramble for Africa’ divided an entire continent between European nations. Why is our experience so different? Draw them in with curiosity and critical evaluation.

Step 4: Hook them with a sense of justice

Children (yes, even and perhaps most strongly, teenagers) have an inherent feeling for what is fair and generally abhor injustice. Give them activities that demonstrate injustice. 

Teach them about the New Zealand Wars, the Tohunga Suppression Act, Rua Kenana, Parihaka, Bastion Point. These are all connected to Te Tiriti. They show how different understandings led to (and still lead to) injustice and conflict.

Step 5: Make it fun

Use role plays, simulation treaties, write and perform raps. After they’ve watched the mockumentary video Waitangi – What Really Happened, get them to make their own. Go on field trips whenever you can to local areas affected by Te Tiriti negotiations or protests. 

Step 6: Make it real

Te Tiriti is a major part of our current society and political environment. It helps explain current injustices and social narratives. I say don’t be afraid to dive into these. This is what makes it real to the students in front of you. This is why it is important. This is how to change their attitudes. 

Suggested activities

Investigate local claims

School Kit has some amazing free resources to help you do this. Also don’t forget to use the Waitangi Tribunal site for specific claims. In 1999, when I was still working at the Tribunal, they issued a School Resource Kit for primary schools. 

That kit is possibly still sitting on the back shelf in resource rooms all over New Zealand but there is a PDF on the School Kit website as well, full of some really great activities to investigate claims and also the nature of treaties. 

Engage with your local iwi

If possible, go on a field trip to see the sites you discuss. There is nothing like a field trip to get students excited, and there’s something about standing on the land that really helps them connect to their learning.

Governor ‘Role Play’ game

With Sovereignty cards, Rangatiratanga cards, Treaty, and Te Tiriti, and a set of specific issues. The student playing the Governor has a secret sovereignty card that, regardless of what the students holding the Treaty and Te Tiriti cards decide, and regardless of the student with the Rangatiratanga card, when they play the sovereignty card, they get to do what they want. This is great for getting students to empathise with the past and present injustices.

Look at land claims and treaties in other parts of the world

Create mini-books to explain key concepts in a simple manner

Conduct treaty simulations 

Looking at what would happen if, say, climate change drove millions of people to come to New Zealand and we were outnumbered. How would we want to protect our land, our customs, our language, our protocols? What would happen and how would we feel if this new majority didn’t follow our conditions? 

For younger children

Focusing on empathy and different understandings of things like lending or sharing crayons versus giving crayons to another student can be really helpful.

Teaching Te Tiriti is a part of my school year I always look forward to. It’s fascinating, it’s necessary, and it can be a lot of fun.

Ministry of Education’s Pūtātara website(external link) supports learners to explore concepts and issues that surround the Treaty, while building a sense of their own identity and acquiring knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. 

For a good basic overview, check out:

The New Zealand History web page(external link)

The Waitangi Tribunal school resources(external link)

School Kit(external link) free resource kits and instructions

What really happened(external link) video series

National Library’s Curiosity Cards(external link)

To find the blogs written by the author of this article, Clementine Fraser go:

Everything* you ever wanted to know about the Treaty of Waitangi but were too scared/andry/oh-god-make-it-go-away to ask(external link) 

Teaching history, changing lives(external link)

History and identity and how we shape both of them(external link)

Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories in the curriculum

The Ministry of Education is making explicit the expectation that all ākonga learn key aspects of New Zealand’s histories, and the ways this has influenced and shaped our nation. 

The Ministry will be working with the sector, history and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand histories are taught. 

Together we will update our national curriculum and make sure that schools and kura have the resources and support they need to include New Zealand’s histories and local histories, in their school curriculum and marau ā-kura –
in partnership with their communities and mana whenua – from 2022.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:40 PM, 31 January 2020

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