Treaty Principles Bill: Open letter to the Coalition Government of Aotearoa
New Zealand from professional translators of te reo Māori

8 min readJul 5, 2024


Rt Hon Christopher Luxon, Prime Minister
Hon Nicola Willis, Deputy Leader of the National Party
Hon Tama Potaka, Minister for Māori Development and Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti
Hon Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Justice and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
Hon David Seymour, Deputy Prime Minister
Hon Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister
Rt Hon Gerry Brownlee, Speaker
Hon Judith Collins, Attorney General

The pending Treaty Principles Bill is based on highly inaccurate translation that breaches international ethical standards of translation and risks enshrining fiction as legal fact at the heart of our nation’s constitutional arrangements.

E te Pirimia, e ngā Minita, tēnā koutou katoa

Prime Minister and Ministers,

We are highly concerned that Ministers are using deeply flawed translations of te reo Māori in the Treaty Principles Bill. Doing so misrepresents foundational concepts; misinforms public discourse; does violence to a treasured and official language; and will cause serious, long-term harm to national unity and confidence in good governance. Effective and responsible political debate and government actions should never be premised on misinformation. We encourage the Prime Minister to insist that all Ministers uphold truth and accuracy as the most basic standards of good governance.

This letter focuses on our area of professional expertise only. Our responsibility is to the languages involved, the reputation and trustworthiness of the translation profession, international ethical standards of translation, and the principle of truth.

The Treaty principles proposed for inclusion in the Treaty Principles Bill are based on extremely inaccurate translation of te Tiriti o Waitangi. It would be misleading to the public to introduce a Bill based on the principles that are being promoted by the Honourable David Seymour. These inaccuracies are demonstrated by a standard quality-assurance process for translation, which is to back-translate the resulting translation to the source language, in order

to ensure that the meaning remains the same. The translation of te Tiriti being promoted for the Treaty Principles Bill entirely fails this benchmark. The meanings and intentions of the proposed Treaty principles do not correlate with those of the Māori text of te Tiriti.

It is incumbent upon any organisation undertaking actions or decisions based on translation from one language to another to ensure that the translation relied on is of the utmost quality. This is achieved by the translation being undertaken by approved professional translators and subject to peer review and quality assurance by the same. The importance of this is further heightened when the translation forms the basis of a policy direction or a Bill that is to be publicly debated and introduced to Parliament.

The government has legal, political and ethical obligations to actively protect and preserve te reo Māori. To allow a deeply flawed interpretation of te reo Māori to be entered into a Bill, introduced to Parliament and taken to select committee is in breach of these government obligations, good faith and good governance. It is a provocative misuse of an official language of this nation. When Government Ministers’ actions or government processes are based on seriously erroneous translation, our unity and integrity as a nation are undermined.

International translation ethical standards are critical to ensure that a translation is a true reflection of the source text, reflecting its meaning and intent. A profound responsibility applies to the task of converting text from one language to another, and one must translate in a way that ensures fidelity of meaning. Adhering to ethical standards is central to the integrity and effectiveness of translation as a professional service, nationally and globally. Key translation ethics include a commitment to accuracy, cultural sensitivity and awareness, professional competence, objectivity and impartiality.

A commitment to accuracy requires capturing the essence and context of the source text, and conveying the intended message as faithfully as possible, without additions, omissions or distortions.

The existing common law Treaty principles largely align with the requirement to capture the essence and context of the source text. The proposed Treaty principles entirely fail this standard and are not faithful to the intended messages of te Tiriti. They ignore the truthful historical context of te Tiriti being an agreement signed with Māori. The preamble of te Tiriti is an important context for understanding the meanings and intentions of the text of the articles of te Tiriti, as is the cultural, linguistic and historical context. Furthermore, there are several additions, omissions and distortions in the proposed principles resulting from the translation.

The additions include the right of the New Zealand Government to govern all New Zealanders, the extension of tino rangatiratanga to all New Zealanders, the concept of individual property rights, the concept of equality before the law, and the inclusion of all New Zealanders in article 3.

Additionally, the broader guarantee of article 2 to tino rangatiratanga of whenua, kāinga and taonga [“the unqualified exercise of their paramount authority over their lands, villages and

all their treasures’’] (1) is omitted. While it is beyond the scope of this letter to provide definitive translations of te Tiriti, this reference shows the breadth of the original article 2 guarantee.

The promise in te Tiriti to give Māori the rights of British citizens, in addition to the retention of their pre-existing rights, is entirely distorted into asserting, in the proposed principles, that all New Zealanders have the same rights and duties.

Cultural sensitivity and awareness are of supreme importance in translation — being aware of cultural nuances, and understanding and respecting the cultural context of both the source and target languages.

The translation of the term tino rangatiratanga as chieftainship for all New Zealanders over their land and property breaches the ethical standard of cultural sensitivity and awareness. Tino rangatiratanga is a Māori concept applied to Māori, and is primarily a collective right. It can only be understood from within its own cultural framework. It cannot, by definition, be extended to apply to all New Zealanders. Tino rangatiratanga is much more than property rights.

Professional competence entails that translators only undertake work they are competent to perform in the languages for which they are professionally qualified through training and credentials. This includes only undertaking translation within one’s professional limits and areas of translation expertise.

The translation of the Māori language of te Tiriti is a specialist task. The qualifications for undertaking that work are high, requiring recognised translation qualifications, as well as knowledge of historical language and familiarity with previous expert translations of this document, its context, Māori dialects and missionary language.

The Honourable David Seymour has not named any recognised professional Māori translators who have been involved in the translation for the proposed principles, and he has stated that he is responsible for any errors. The Crown acknowledged to the Waitangi Tribunal inquiry for the Wai 3300 claim that no Māori language expert had been involved in development of the Bill to date. Without evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that the translation has not been completed by appropriately qualified and competent professional translators. The resulting inaccuracies in the translation are of grave concern for the development of a Bill that could be enshrined in New Zealand law.

Objectivity and impartiality are essential to ensure the translation is a neutral and accurate representation of the original text and is free from personal interpretation. A translator must not insert their personal beliefs or biases into their work, particularly when undertaking translation in the legal field. A translator must aim to ensure that the full intent of the communication is conveyed in a complete and accurate transfer of the message.

The full intent of the communications contained within te Tiriti is completely absent in the proposed Treaty principles. The weighting that te Tiriti gave to government has been greatly increased in the proposed Treaty principles, and both the weighting and the meaning that te Tiriti gave to tino rangatiratanga for Māori have been reduced and diluted to the point of complete loss of its authentic meaning. The guarantees that te Tiriti made to Māori have been either entirely omitted or erroneously extended to all New Zealanders.

The proposed Treaty principles, which are claimed to result from the Māori text of te Tiriti, bear little resemblance to the meaning and intent of the source text, and instead appear to encapsulate ACT Party political preferences. In combination with the other evidence outlined above, this suggests that the ethical standards of objectivity and impartiality have not been adhered to.

In summary, these ethical standards have all been seriously breached in the purported translation of te Tiriti that is foundational to the proposed Treaty principles. The numerous breaches of the professional ethical standards for translation mean that national and international standards have not been met in the principles proposed for the upcoming Bill. The linguistic, cultural and historical context of te Tiriti have been ignored. The resulting material is completely inadequate for a government process, even more so for one that seeks to radically change the constitutional platform of our country. This must never be undertaken on a foundation of misinformation.

Requested actions

It is not sufficient that the National Party have publicly stated that they will not support the Bill past first reading and select committee. We call on both the Prime Minister and the National Party to act honourably and reasonably by undertaking the following actions:

1Allow a conscience vote by all Members of Parliament on the Treaty Principles Bill for all readings, should it proceed to Parliament.

2Not allow an entrenchment clause to be included in the Bill, given the deep inaccuracies of translation and foundational concepts.

3Publicly and firmly state that the content of the Bill is premised on inaccurate translation and analysis, and that the omission of explicit mention of Māori from the proposed Treaty principles is contrary to the meaning and intention of te Tiriti; and that the Bill does not represent the National Party or the National-led Government’s views on the ongoing relationship of good faith with Māori established through te Tiriti o Waitangi.

4Request the names, translation qualifications and credentials of any people involved in the translation of te Tiriti that led to the proposed Treaty principles, including those who undertook peer review and quality assurance. Confirm publicly that the qualifications and credentials of these people adhere to professional standards OR that the translation does not meet the standards required by government.

5Maintain a standard of truth for legislation, and do not allow the Treaty Principles Bill to be introduced to Parliament until it can be publicly confirmed that the translation that is foundational to it has been professionally completed and verified, and that rigorous quality assurance by professional and suitably qualified translators has been completed to the satisfaction of those translators.

6Affirm support for te reo Māori as an indigenous, highly valuable and official language.

Heoi anō, noho ora mai i te pae o ēnā o ā tātou mahi

Nā mātou tahi, nā

Piripi Walker
Nellie-Ann Te Kowhai Abraham Paiheretia Aperahama
Dr Hona Black
Leon Morrell Heketū Blake
Nigel Brooke
Melissa Bryant
Komene Cassidy
Ian C Cormack, Fellow NZSTI
Ngairo Eruera
Donovan Te Ahunui Farnham
Dr Karena Kelly
Te Mihinga Komene
Dr Jeremy Tātere MacLeod
Te Haumihiata Mason ONZM
Urupikia Minhinnick
Stacey Morrison
Melanie Nelson
Dr Vincent Ieni Olsen-Reeder
Te Ahu Rei
Te Korou Whangataua Roberts
Mark Ngāhōia Scott
Kristin Smith
Ariana Stevens
Amiria Stirling
Regan Kupu Stokes
Karuna Thurlow

(1) Translation by McCully Matiu and Dr Margaret Mutu, 2003, quoted in Te Whakaputanga me Te Tiriti, Waitangi Tribunal, 2010, p. 350.




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