Tangata whenua means people of the land in the Maori language (known simply as Maori or Te Reo Maori).
The Maori people are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand and came to the large archipelago in the 13th century by canoe. They have since settled on all three islands that make up New Zealand and their culture has continued to thrive as Europeans and eventually the rest of the world has discovered the country.
Now, all races and ethnicities are represented in New Zealand and the Maori people make up only 15% of the population. This is actually a strikingly small percentage seeing as how big of an impact their culture has on the country. There are two national languages in New Zealand, English and Maori. Each language is taught in the school system and it is up to the individual to decide what language they would like to learn in. New Zealand also has a Maori Language Week that celebrates the indigenous language of the country as well as the 150,000 members of the population who can speak it.
The importance of the Maori culture was illustrated when the British Crown and the Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty was then changed and adjusted to make it relevant in modern society. A government statement in 1989 solidified these changes. The main goals of the treaty are to ensure that The Crown (the New Zealand government) has freedom to govern but must actively protect Maori interests. The treaty outlines that The Crown has a duty to consult with the Maori and that the needs of both the Maori and the wider community must be met (which most likely requires compromise). The most important part of the treaty is that the Maori maintain control over all of their taonga or treasured things. This includes land as well as intangible cultural assets.
The government of New Zealand recognizes the importance of the Maori culture, although there is always going to be some tension that exists between the two entities. The Maori people feel as though some of the government’s actions disrespect their culture and that the media is unbalanced. There is a Maori Media Network that is devoted to the Maori audience, however most people believe that this is not enough.