Maori United Tribes Flag Flies at Council Service Centre

The Maori United Tribes flag is flying outside of the Council Service Centre in Rangiora today and will remain aloft alongside the New Zealand flag until after Waitangi Day.

Māori chiefs choose a flag

On 20 March 1834, 25 chiefs from the Far North and their followers gathered at Waitangi to choose a flag to represent New Zealand. A number of missionaries, settlers and the commanders of 10 British and 3 American ships were also in attendance at the occasion.

Following Busby's address, each chief was called forward in turn to select a flag, while the son of one of the chiefs recorded the votes. The preferred design, a flag already used by the Church Missionary Society, received 12 out of the 25 votes, with the other two designs receiving 10 and 3 votes respectively. Busby declared the chosen flag the national flag of New Zealand and had it hoisted on a central flagpole, accompanied by a 21 gun salute from HMS Alligator.

The new flag was then sent back to New South Wales for passage to King William IV. The King approved the flag, and a drawing of it was circulated through the Admiralty with instructions to recognise it as New Zealand's flag. It came to be known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand in recognition of the title used by the same chiefs when they met again.

Busby's hope that the flag would provide a means for encouraging Māori to act collectively was partially fulfilled when many of the chiefs involved went on to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1835. To Māori, the United Tribes flag was significant in that Britain had recognised New Zealand as an independent nation with its own flag, and in doing so, had acknowledged the mana of the Māori chiefs. As only northern chiefs were involved in choosing the flag, it became particularly significant to northern Māori.

By way of oral history and tradition, the flag remains important to successive generations of northern Māori today. The flag could be sighted flying in various locations around the Bay of Islands, as well as on ships plying their trade to Sydney. Ships calling at other ports in New Zealand led to the flag's use in other parts of the country as well.