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Attack on treaty exhibit at NZ national museum

Ben McKay -

Activists have defaced an exhibit on the Treaty of Waitangi at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, in the latest display of tension around the place of Maori after the election of a right-wing government.

Police arrested a number of people following a co-ordinated protest at the Wellington waterfront museum on Monday.

The target was the museum's displays explaining the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's foundational document.

One man abseiled inside the building, using an angle grinder and spray paint to damage the display.

Others held signs saying "tell the truth" in both English and te reo, the Maori language, while another used a megaphone to critique the display.

"It says that Maori ceded sovereignty to the Crown. That is a lie," the man said.

"We are here to tell Te Papa to tell the truth ... you're not just here to display these two documents, you need to be adding context, you need to be helping people to understand."

An angle grinder and spray paint were used to damage a display at Te Papa. (Image: HANDOUT/POSITIVELY WELLINGTON TOURISM)

The Te Papa protest - carried out by the Te Waka Hourua group (meaning the double canoe) - follows a "National Maori Action Day" last week.

Those protests, organised by the Maori Party, saw thousands march around the country against the new government.

Many Maori are fearful of measures agreed by the new government which would strip away the Treaty of Waitangi from the centre of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Maori and the British Crown as the basis for co-existence between the Indigenous and colonising populations.

However, translation issues between the English and te reo versions several disagreements continue to this day, including whether sovereignty was ceded by Maori.

New Zealand's October election led to a three-party coalition of the centre-right National party, free-market libertarians ACT and populists New Zealand First.

All three campaigned for a rollback of Maori governance of public entities introduced by the Labour-led government.

Coalition deals signed between the three parties include pledges to strip all existing laws of references to the treaty, and to introduce legislation that would seek to redefine treaty principles as agreed by the Waitangi Tribunal.

The ACT and NZ First parties are particularly eager on the changes, arguing it brings New Zealand in line with liberal democratic values.

Politicians from the left say the proposals will bring unrest not before seen in New Zealand, with senior Labour Maori politician Willie Jackson saying last month it would rival the infamous 1981 apartheid-era Springbok tours.

Those protests are likely to manifest over summer, including on Waitangi Day, February 6, when Prime Minister Chris Luxon is expected to visit the grounds where the treaty was signed.

Te Papa spokeswoman Kate Camp said while a wooden display panel was damaged in Monday's vandalism, museum collection items were not.

"We respect the right of people to express their views and to protest but we are disappointed that the group has damaged this museum display," she said.

"The exhibition has evolved over time, and it will continue to."

Ben McKay - AAP

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