Story: Muriwhenua tribes

Page 4. European contact

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The Treaty of Waitangi

On 28 April 1840, 61 Muriwhenua chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Kaitāia. Lieutenant Governor William Hobson assured them that the treaty would control Pākehā settlers and protect Māori lands and interests. Nōpera Pana-kareao encapsulated Māori understanding of the treaty based on these promises, saying, ‘Ko te atarau o te whenua i riro i a te kuini, ko te tinana o te whenua i waiho ki ngā Māori’ (The shadow of the land will go to the Queen [of England], but the substance of the land will remain with us). One year later he reversed his opinion, saying that the substance of the land had gone to the Queen and that Māori retained only the shadow.

Land loss

Muriwhenua suffered under government policies on Māori land. The government’s investigations into European land purchase claims before the treaty resulted in the loss of about 60,000 hectares. Further government purchases resulted in the alienation of another 113,000 hectares by 1865. By 1890 the government had acquired another 31,000 hectares, so that the Muriwhenua tribes no longer held sufficient lands to maintain their traditional way of life. Some took up kauri gum digging, but it was a short-term boom. The Waitangi Tribunal conclude that ‘with nearly all their usable land gone, Muriwhenua Māori were reduced to penury, powerlessness, and, eventually, state dependence’.

Muriwhenua today

In 2013 there were over 40,000 Muriwhenua Māori in New Zealand. As a result of huge land losses and marginalisation of Māori society, combined with the migration of Māori to the cities since 1950, less than a third of Muriwhenua people (about 12,000) lived in the Northland region in 2013. Many lived outside the tribal area, with almost 18,000 descendants in the Auckland region.

Treaty issues

Muriwhenua people have played an important role in Treaty of Waitangi politics since the 1960s. Whina Cooper led the 1975 Māori land march from Te Hāpua to Parliament.

The tribes have also played a pivotal role in claims before the Waitangi Tribunal, lodging multiple claims since 1994. The Muriwhenua fishing report (1988) was instrumental in the 1992 settlement of Māori claims to offshore fisheries. The Muriwhenua land report (1997) documented the history of land loss and its impact on the tribe. Initially, Muriwhenua land claims were to be settled under the confederation of Te Rūnanga-ō-Muriwhenua. However, after several debates within the tribes, it was decided that each tribe would negotiate separately.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Muriwhenua tribes - European contact', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 February 2017)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 10 Feb 2015