November 20, 2015

Conversations Around a Flag: Getting our history straight about the 1834 Te Whakaminenga Flag.

This blog reflects concerns about how our history is being told, especially with regard to our country’s first flag, the 1834 Te Whakaminenga Flag. Set out below are emails on this subject, sent to the Treaty Worker movement and New Zealand’s Flag Consideration Panel.

united tribes variation

To Treaty Workers
11 November 2015

Kia ora all

Today we received a booklet distributed by the Flag Consideration Project. It’s name “Be part of history”. Inside the front cover are 2 quotes from Emeritus Professor John Burrows. The first says:

“This is a very important time in New Zealand’s history – it’s the very first time Kiwis have had the opportunity to think which flag best represents them now, and in the future, as individuals and as a nation.”

I rang the number 0800 36 76 56 to express my concern that this totally overlooked the Rangatira’s choosing of the 1834 flag, which was internationally recognised as representing our country and its people.

I couldn’t find the booklet on the website and am wondering whether others of you have received it? I think it might have come with the NZ Herald this morning.

Susan (Healy)



Extract from email to Susan Healy

From NZ Flag Consideration Project Secretariat Team
16 November 2015

The Panel is aware of how the nation’s first flag, now known as the Flag of the United Tribes or New Zealand, was chosen.  It has proactively shared this information as part of its efforts to inform people about the history of the New Zealand flag.  It has done this by:

– highlighting it in a video it produced on the history of our flag (visit:, which has been viewed 242,070 times …



Email to NZ Flag Consideration Project Secretariat Team

From Susan Healy
16 November 2015

Kia ora, Team

Thank you for getting back to me. I was aware that much of your material states that this is the first time all New Zealanders are taking part in choosing a nation flag, and I do not object to that. It is Professor Burrow’s statement that I find questionable.

I have now looked at the English text from your video, which acknowledges the 1834 flag. I do have a very real concern with the text. It provides a Eurocentric version of events in that it places James Busby as the key instigator of that flag. The speakers at the Waitangi Tribunal’s Ngapuhi Nui Tonu hearing gave a much more plausible account of the history, showing that rangatira were very much at the heart of choosing an internationally recognisable flag. I was part of an panel that prepared an independent report on that hearing. We cited Patu Hohepa’s evidence regarding the 1834 flag and made this observation:

Hohepa’s account places the origins of the flag in the visit of the rangatira to Sydney in 1831 and the subsequent dialogue between them and the authorities in Sydney. On their return this dialogue included other rangatira and European advisors—notably Henry Williams.[1] The initiative for the flag lay with the Ngāpuhi rangatira. It is adopted by them in the interests of Māori trade and as a sign of their mana to the non-Māori international world. While Hohepa’s account testifies to the presence of European friends and other interested European parties, it is notable that Busby is not singled out as a dominant figure in these proceedings (Ngapuhi Speaks, s. 1.7.2).

I think you would find it of interest to read that section of our report, Ngapuhi Speaks; it gives a much fuller account of the choosing of the flag. It makes the point that for too long our written histories have focused on colonial individuals as the dominant figures in our country’s history rather than bringing out the reality of Maori initiative and the relationships of mutuality that existed between Maori and some of the early settlers. Making Busby the focus is to denigrate the initiative and vision of hapu and their rangatira.

Since, as you state, your video is a well used resource and is likely to remain so, I urge you to provide a history of the 1834 flag that is in line with the evidence given by Ngapuhi Nui Tonu. It could be a helpful contribution to race relations in our country.

Yours respectfully,
Susan Healy <>

[1] Before becoming a missionary, Henry Williams was a British naval officer and so was in a good position both to advise on a flag that would gain international recognition and to discuss with the rangatira about a design that was meaningful to them.

Susan Healy

Comments (2)

  1. April 9, 2016
    Andrew Barton said...

    Tēnā koutou katoa,
    Susan’s request, to the Flag Consideration Panel (FCP), to rectify colonial bias, regarding our flags’ history, highlights our nation’s authorities’ continuing malaise, towards the actual recognition of our bi-cultural partnership. And I thank her for this submission.

    I would, however, humbly request that the white striped flag, posted on your Treatyblog site, be replaced with the black striped version. It has been brought on my attention that the black striped version was the flag design chosen by ngā Rangatira o Ngā Puhi nui tonu.

    Henry Williams, the co-author of the above mentioned Rangatira design, inserted a black trim in order to fulfill requirements that any successful flag must contain the colours red, white and black.

    From what I gather, the white trim replaced the black trim when the flag was submitted to the NSW colonial government for authorisation. (I have yet to find information as to why this change had taken place; my hunch is that the authorities probably thought that the colour black was lost when boarding the red and dark blue. (Someone may enlighten me/us further about the korero of this flag and, in particular, the change of colour and subsequent usage, of the two designs.))

    Many thanks.
    Andrew Barton

  2. April 25, 2016
    Susan Healy said...

    Kia ora Andrew
    Thanks for this feedback. As you can see, we have now made the alteration.

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