Collaborative translation for the future of New Zealand

The nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the ongoing relationship between the indigenous Māori and the arriving European settlers are both founded on a translation, the Treaty of Waitangi 1840. The two versions of the Treaty, the English version and te reo Māori (the Māori language) version have equal legal standing. It was drawn up in English and then translated into te reo Māori, overnight, by a non-native speaker of te reo Māori. The potential pitfalls of this situation are immediately obvious! The Treaty informs the law and culture of New Zealand but the problems arising from mistranslation of key terms and the different cultural concepts of the two parties continue to affect New Zealand today.

People from many cultures, with many different first languages, now call New Zealand home and want to understand the Treaty. With this in mind, members of the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters set up The Treaty Times 30 project to translate both versions of the Treaty into 30 of the first languages spoken in New Zealand.  The project was a voluntary collaboration involving almost a hundred translators.

In this presentation I will outline the historical context and some of the consequences of the original mistranslations of the Treaty and then describe the collaborative process we used to produce the book of translations: The Treaty Times 30. There were many challenges to overcome but the results were a wonderful team spirit, a chance to highlight the value of the translation profession and a book that aims to further the inclusive nature of New Zealand society and contribute to the post-colonial world view. The book was gifted to the nation and accepted by the Governor General of New Zealand in February 2017.

A freelance translator, Mandy translates from French and Italian into English. A member of the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) as well as of ITI, she was part of the team which ran the NZSTI Treaty Times 30 project. The project translated the founding document of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, in both its versions, into 30 languages.