The unsettling truth about the Treaty

Within 44 years, 18 million acres of New Zealand land passed from the purview of one group of people into the hands of scores of others. Some of the new owners were not in the country yet.

Eighteen million acres represents more than a quarter of the entire land mass of New Zealand. Or about 67 Aucklands. It was all gone between 1865 and 1909.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei transferred the future Auckland city to the Crown for the equivalent of about $70,000 in today’s currency.

At the top of the South Island, no one asked Ngāti Apa before the Crown bought the entire area. Within roughly two decades, Ngāti Apa was down to five acres (the equivalent of five rugby fields).

Māori land ownership

New Zealand’s current housing crisis demonstrates what can go wrong for people without a place to call home. Unemployment, poverty, drugs, mental and physical health problems.

The land alienation that happened at the beginning of this country’s modern existence was much, much worse. In short order, an entire race of people was shunted from their homes or forced to find new ways of sustaining themselves - often in unfamiliar settings. In clashes with the Crown, some were imprisoned and many hundreds were killed.

For instance, Nelson’s Ngāti Kuia was pressured to give up its land. In exchange, it was given some money and land that wasn’t suitable for the iwi to either maintain customary practices or develop to suit the new economy. They became economically marginalised as a result.

The confronting truth of what happened in our recent past is something New Zealanders have to reckon with. The Treaty of Waitangi settlement process exists because of it.

On this page, you can connect the two. Every completed Treaty settlement, including a brief summary of the historical background, is outlined in the interactive graphic below. The maps for each show where each iwi was at before land began to be alienated. For many, Stuff has been able to establish the total area alienated over time.

Every corner of New Zealand is a part of this story. Look at the maps. Read the stories. Watch the videos. Grasp the numbers. This is the unsettling truth about the way this country was established.

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* Where possible we have tried to establish the total area of land alienation for each settlement. This is not necessarily the same as the area of interest shown on the maps. Some of the alienated land may have been confiscated outright, while other land may have been purchased. Some purchases breached the Treaty, others did not. We have included all land alienation regardless of how it came to be alienated.

✝︎ Iwi population numbers are drawn from the 2013 Census.


Data editor
Andy Fyers

Project editor
John Hartevelt

Design & development
Suyeon Son

Carmen Parahi, Tony Wall, Florence Kerr, Brad Flahive

Animated video
Kathryn George and Brad Flahive

Ross Giblin, Simon O’Connor, Chris Skelton, Chris McKeen, Rosa Woods, Christel Yardley

Additional reporting
Deena Coster, Amanda Saxton, Joel Ineson, Thomas Manch, Harrison Christian, Elton Smallman, Paul Mitchell, Ruby Macandrew

Most map outlines on this page courtesy of Click Suite. A 3D animation of Māori land loss, based on these maps, can be viewed at the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library in Wellington.