This page gives a broad outline of how the feature on New Zealand being granted dominion status could be used by teachers and students of social studies and history.

Dominion status

On 26 September 1907 the colony of New Zealand ceased to exist. New Zealand became a dominion within the British Empire. Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward read the proclamation of dominion status from the steps of Parliament, and he marked an important symbolic shift in New Zealand’s perceptions of nationhood. However, the shift from colony to dominion was a change of name only. It had no practical effect. New Zealand was no more and no less independent from Britain than it had been before.

Richard Long, writing in the Dominion Post on 25 September 2007, argued that Dominion Day 'would be a whole lot better as a national day than continuing with the ever-divisive Waitangi Day'.

This feature is of great value to teachers and students working at various levels who are exploring themes associated with the growth of New Zealand identity.

Social studies

Many junior social studies classes explore the theme of New Zealand identity. The focus of these studies is often what it means to be a New Zealander or symbols of identity, for example, Kiwiana. What is not so obviously addressed are some of the important political and constitutional issues that have shaped our identity as a unique nation. This might be touched on when the Treaty of Waitangi is studied, but these can be somewhat daunting concepts to tackle with younger students. This feature will help teachers come to grips with some constitutional issues relating to New Zealand’s political development as a nation. With careful use, this feature could be used by teachers at Levels 4 and 5 to follow on from a study of the Treaty of Waitangi by examining the transition from colonial to dominion status. Some key questions to consider include:

  • Did Dominion status result in New Zealand asserting its own identity as a nation? Did anything really change?
  • How was New Zealand society as a whole shaped by this event?
  • How did New Zealanders react, individually and collectively, to dominion status?
  • Does Richard Long have a point when he suggests Dominion Day should replace Waitangi Day as our national day?

NCEA Level 2 history

The 'Growth of New Zealand identity 1890–1980' is one topic offered under the heading of the theme, 'Imperialism, indigenous peoples and the emergence of new nations'.   

When Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward read the proclamation of dominion status from the steps of Parliament on 26 September 1907, he marked an important symbolic shift in New Zealand’s perceptions of nationhood. This would, he hoped, remind the world that New Zealand was an important player in its own right.  The Evening Post reported on the first Dominion Day that, New Zealand went ‘up one’ in the ‘school of British nations’. ‘Abroad … there is a notion that New Zealand is … merely the little tail of the great dog; but the Prime Minister is determined that the tail is not to be overlooked, nor to be despised in any way.’

This feature provides students with a context to examine the issue of dominion status as part of New Zealand's pathway to independence. To what extent was this merely a change in name and not status? The debate surrounding dominion status could be used to prepare for:

  • Achievement standard 2.6: Examine individual or group identity in a historical setting, in an essay.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this topic go to Dominion status activities – NCEA Level 2 history.

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