The Treaty of Waitangi is now considered the most important document in the history of New Zealand. Signed in 1840 by British representatives and Maori chiefs, it recognized the legitimacy of Maori land ownership and gave them equal rights to those of other British subjects. It is considered "the founding document of New Zealand as a nation" and provided the island territory with a ruling British governor. The Maoris have often complained about breaches of the treaty and problems with its translation, and financial settlements have been paid in the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars. Nevertheless, the treaty has been celebrated as a national holiday--Waitangi Day--since 1974.
The Treaty of Waitangi was relevant historically because it gave England sovereignty over New Zealand. Today, it remains significant in New Zealand because it is used to press claims for Maori rights to land and other resources in that country.
The treaty guaranteed Maori rights over the lands of New Zealand in exchange for their recognition of British sovereignty over the country. In the years after the treaty was signed, however, those rights were encroached upon to a great extent. Recently, Maoris have used the terms of the treaty to press claims to fishing rights and the right to compensation for the use of forests, among other things.
This is the major relevance of the treaty today. It is used as a way for the Maori to make claims. This is a major source of controversy in New Zealand.