Queen Elizabeth II

Page 4 – Māori and the Queen

In 1953–54 the New Zealand government tried to portray the country as having the best race relations in the world, in the sense that Māori participated fully in the British way of life. Conservative politicians saw Māori ceremonies as little more than colourful sideshows. Māori leaders had to struggle to add Waitangi to the itinerary, ensure adequate time for the visit to Rotorua, and arrange for the royal couple to stop briefly at Tūrangawaewae, the marae of King Korokī in Ngāruawāhia. 

Only on the morning of the day the car would pass the turn-off to Tūrangawaewae did officials consent to a detour. The Queen and the Duke stayed just 17 minutes, but even this was much longer than the three minutes that had grudgingly been conceded.

Yet, as Jock Phillips observed, the nature of the grievances showed the limits of the disputes between Māori and European New Zealanders. Māori ‘were primarily concerned to express their loyalty to the Crown and to win acceptance as New Zealand citizens.’ They were just as enthusiastic about the tour as other New Zealanders.

Many Māori felt they had a special relationship with the sovereign through the Treaty of Waitangi. From colonial days they had sent delegations to Britain to seek royal support. Each time they had been deflected by imperial officials.

From the 1960s, gains in education, a reinterpretation of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and other new opportunities led to what some called a Māori renaissance. Māori activists joined the growing minority of New Zealanders who were challenging the old ideas of assimilation and conformity. On several occasions protesters used public events such as Waitangi Day celebrations to make their points. In 1990 at Waitangi, a woman threw a T-shirt at the Queen while others heckled official speakers. While more Māori welcomed the Queen at such events, the consensus of the 1950s had eroded. In 2011 the MP Hone Harawira was briefly thrown out of the House by the Speaker, Lockwood Smith, for swearing allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi rather than the Queen.

In 1995 the Tainui people agreed to a Treaty settlement. In addition to compensation for land confiscated after the New Zealand Wars, they wanted a formal apology from the Queen. ‘Such an apology would be constitutionally unique’, Prime Minister Jim Bolger recalled. ‘Her Majesty is not in the habit of apologising for the misdeeds of those who acted in the Crown’s name.’ The politicians devised a solution that was acceptable to both Tainui and Buckingham Palace. Once the bill containing the formal apology was passed by the House, the Queen, who was visiting New Zealand for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the time, gave the Royal Assent by signing the legislation herself instead of the governor-general doing so.

How to cite this page

'Māori and the Queen', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth/maori-and-the-queen, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-May-2023