The Treaty of Waitangi is living social document - debated, overlooked, celebrated. Is it a vision of peaceful co-existence or the cause of disharmony? An irrelevancy or the platform on which all New Zealanders can build a future? Signs of a Nation | Ngā Tohu Kotahitanga is a contemporary commentary on the Treaty of Waitangi and its centrality to the wider New Zealand community.
The exhibition stands in an imposing wedge-shaped space, underneath a high cathedral-like ceiling. But with its comfortable seating and calm ambience, the setting offers a place for quiet contemplation. The Treaty document itself - both as a giant replica and with the words of its two versions set large on the walls - has a strong presence in the exhibition.
Moving into the space, you pass through a thicket of pole clusters. Here many voices can be heard, presenting the different views of New Zealanders on the Treaty, like snapshots in time, with quotes from the time of signing through to current opinions. In a space under the mezzanine, personal stories of people whose lives have been affected by the Treaty bring to life the words in English and Māori on the walls.
Signs of a Nation is also responsive to contemporary events and provides a forum for New Zealanders in which new analyses - creative, intellectual, and social - can occur.
The glass replica of the Treaty
Te Papa's Treaty, a copy of the official 1840 version, stands eight metres high in the exhibition. It weighs three-quarters of a tonne. Thanks to modern technology, it has been enshrined in the beauty and permanence of glass.
This double-layered icon speaks to us across time. The deepest layer carries an enlargement of the original signed Māori version of the Treaty in the tattered form it has come down to us today. Therefore some signatures are missing. This is a reminder both of its years of obscurity and its capacity to somehow survive.
To supply the missing parts, the complete text is laid over the original document - so we can see exactly how the Treaty was when it was signed.