Today New Zealanders are celebrating Waitangi Day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840, the nation's founding document.
Signed at what is now called Treaty House, in Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands, by representatives of the British crown and Maori chiefs, the treaty was supposed to grant Maoris protection from French forces, as well as maintain their ownership of lands and make them British subjects. However, as the document was bi-lingual, the English text differed significantly from the Maori version, particularly with reference to sovereignty.
These ambiguities caused much disagreement in the decades that followed, and eventually led to the New Zealand Wars between 1845 and 1872, which saw firstly British troops, then later New Zealand government forces, fight Maori warriors over land purchases. The result was the loss of much Maori land, some through legitimate purchases, but also much through forced seizures.
It was not until the 1960s and 70s, due to pressure from Maoris, that the Treaty of Waitangi began to be interpreted in a way that was more favourable to their rights. In 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up as a means of redressing the historical injustices caused by the treaty, which has seen various Maori groups receive $1 billion so far in settlements.
Today, Waitangi Day has become a national holiday and is celebrated across New Zealand, with the festivities centred on the grounds around Treaty House.