The Chiefs respond to Heke’s flagstaff attack

The Waimate North mission station – location of the 1844 hui to discuss Heke’s flagstaff attack

“We are one tribe, and we will fight for the staff and our Governor.” So declared Tamati Waka Nene. It was September 1844. Hone Heke had recently attacked the flagstaff at Kororareka. Now Governor Fitzroy had travelled north to address the situation.

First he met with a large group of Chiefs at the Waimate mission station. Fitzroy explained the significance of the flagstaff. This symbol of Crown sovereignty did not make them slaves as Heke had claimed. Rather it promised them the liberty enjoyed by British citizens. Fitzroy invited full, open and plain discussion on the matter. The gathered Chiefs obliged, and their responses to Fitzroy were startling.

Today we are told Heke attacked the flagstaff because the dual-sovereignty partnership ostensibly agreed to in the Treaty was not being honoured. But from the twenty four Chiefs gathered at Waimate a very different picture emerges. In the record of the meeting (Auckland Museum Library OCM77 MS-430) we hear  almost unanimous support for the Governor. Not only this, but there are some very clear endorsements of his pre-eminent governing authority over all New Zealanders.

From Patuone we hear – “Governor, you are the great chief of this place”

From Wai – “there is no cause; the chieftainship rests with one, the Governor”

From Waka Nene – “Governor if that flagstaff is cut down again, we will fight for it, we will fight for it all of us, we are one tribe, and we will fight for the staff and our Governor.”

Today it is fashionable to assert that, in the Treaty, the Chiefs expected to retain full sovereignty over their own people, whilst the Governor would only exercise authority over the European settlers. Clearly these Chiefs at Waimate didn’t see it that way. They recognised Fitzroy as “our Governor” and openly acknowledged his authority.

That didn’t mean they were all happy with how Fitzroy was governing. There had already been strong push-back against the customs duties he had implemented. These were a sore point for many. However that did not move them from their prior Treaty commitment. Indeed many went on to fight against Heke in demonstration of that commitment.

Sadly their honourable efforts are today largely downplayed, or their motives impugned by modernist historians intent on pushing the dual-sovereignty paradigm. Instead Heke, a known troublemaker who instigated a violent uprising in which many died, is acclaimed as the flag-bearer of the “equal-partnership” cause. But as Wai declared – “there is no cause; the chieftainship rests with one, the Governor.”

Ewen McQueen
February 2021

For more details get a copy of my new book One Sun in the Sky: the untold story of sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi

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