2016 NZSTI Conference

Project spokesperson Stefan Grand-Meyer spoke about Treaty Times 30 at the 2016 NZSTI Conference in Christchurch, New Zealand on Saturday 28 May 2016. Below is the speech he gave.

Dear fellow translators,

This year, the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters turns 30. To mark the occasion, the Wellington branch, with the support of the National Council, recently launched the Treaty Times Thirty project.

This is an ambitious initiative to translate both the English and Māori versions of the Treaty of Waitangi into 30 different languages. We will publish the resulting 60 translations into a book, and gift them to the people of New Zealand at an official event.

Why the Treaty of Waitangi?

Translation is at the heart of New Zealand’s founding document, and of its interpretation. As instructed by Lieutenant-GovernorWilliam Hobson, Henry Williams undertook, with his son’s help, to translate into Māori what was to be known as the Treaty of Waitangi. The translation they produced overnight contains a number of key differences in meaning, which have led to divergent interpretations of the English and Māori versions of the Treaty.

When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on the the 6th of February 1840 at Waitangi, and elsewhere at different locations in New Zealand during 1840, it was a treaty signed between two parties. The first party comprised those hapū whose chiefs throughout New Zealand signed it, and the second party was the British Crown, whose representative, William Hobson, signed on its behalf.

In the present day context the two Treaty partners are Māori as tangata whenua (even though some iwi and hapū did not sign the Treaty) and the Crown. The term Crown encompasses the government of New Zealand and all non-Maori citizens and residents of New Zealand. It is as part of the latter party that we decided to undertake Treaty Times 30.

Our project is significant, not only because of its sheer size or because it deals with New Zealand’s founding document, but also because:

  • It has raised the profile of NZSTI and translation in New Zealand, and will continue to do so;
  • It showcases best practice in the industry and thereby plays an important role in educating the public on translation issues;
  • It will give migrants in New Zealand and members of the international community access to New Zealand’s founding document.

In my presentation today, I will tell you more about Treaty Times 30 and how it came about, I will take you through the process that we have decided to implement, and I will give you the latest update on the project’s status.

How it all started

I may be romanticising this slightly… but it was a cold and stormy night of September 2015 when the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters held its annual general meeting. As usual we drank wine and ate cheese, and ended up discussing the Society’s 30th anniversary. Should we do anything special to celebrate? And if so, what?

Different ideas were suggested, discussed and discarded, until Cecilia Titulaer, an Argentinian translator based in Upper Hutt, took the floor: ‘How about translating the Treaty of Waitangi into 30 languages?’ Silence fell in the overheated room: yes – that was it, that was exactly it. And maybe it was because of the wine or the heat, but some of us agreed to put together a proposal and submit it to the Society’s National Council.

And so, the ‘Let’s Translate the Treaty into 30 Languages’ project was born, along with a team of dedicated volunteers working together collaboratively. As you will see later, collaboration and consensus building are key features of the way the project is run. The general consensus at the time was that the temporary name of ‘Let’s Translate the Treaty into 30 Languages’ project was not the most appealing name, the first task of the organising committee was to find a short and catchy name that would capture the spirit of the project. After discussing various propositions, we opted for Treaty Times Thirty, along with the byline: ‘NZSTI celebrates its 30th anniversary by translating the Treaty of Waitangi into 30 languages’.

Now we had a name – but what about the rest? If we were to present a proposal to the National Council, we needed to put together a budget, define rules for participation, and develop a process.

The translation process 

In 1840, William Hobson asked Henry Williams, a native English speaker, to translate the draft version of the Treaty of Waitangi into Māori in haste – the signing was meant to take place the following day! Williams produced the translation overnight and, unsurprisingly, it was not reviewed.

The unfortunate translation choices he made led to key differences in meaning between the English and Māori versions of the Treaty, most notably in regards to governorship and sovereignty. Needless to say, the translation process that was followed at the time was deeply flawed and very far from the professional standards the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters promotes today.

The Treaty Times 30 project aims to highlight those differences in meaning between the Treaty and Te Tiriti, while also showcasing high quality translation and professionalism. According to the international standard ISO 17100, today’s standard process in the translation industry consists of 2 steps, with an optional third step:

  1. Translation: A qualified translator translates a text from one language to his/her native tongue.
  2. Revision: Another qualified, usually more experienced, linguist reviews the translation and makes necessary corrections.
  3. Proofreading: A final quality check is carried out to make sure the translation meets professional standards.

Given the national significance of the Treaty Times 30 project, the organising committee has decided to implement a robust translation process that exceeds the industry’s standard practice to ensure the best outcome.

Stage 1: Translation 

Translators were invited to participate from early December 2015. All participating translators are required to translate both texts. A minimum of 3 participating translators is required for any given language to qualify. This allows us to have a variety of translations to work with in order to draft the best translations possible during phase two of the project: the collaborative stage.

Stage 2: Collaboration

Once a language has met our minimum qualification criteria and if no other translations are expected, participants are invited to work together using online collaboration tools to either select the best translations or pick and choose the best elements of each entry to produce the best translations possible. Each working group has a dedicated member of the organising committee acting as a support person.

From the moment the collaboration phase is launched for a particular language, the team of translators has 4 weeks to complete the translations, although we have been quite flexible in that regard. How they work together is up to the group – as long as they adopt a collaborative approach. Once they have produced a final translation of the Treaty and of Te Tiriti, the third stage begins.

Stage 3: Review 

The third phase is a final check carried out by legal experts who are native speakers of the languages the Treaty and Te Tiriti were translated into. In other words, a Russian legal expert will review the two translations into Russian, while a Thai jurist will review the two translations into Thai. Stage 3 is a final step that will ensure that the translations are of the highest quality possible.

Once all 30 languages have gone through this process, and 60 high quality translations have been produced, they will be collated into a book. Specialists of multilingual desktop publishing will collaborate to ensure the correct rendering and layout of all translations. The content of the book has not been determined yet, but it is likely to contain a foreword, the source documents, explanation notes on the Treaty, and most importantly the names of all the translators and reviewers who will have contributed to the production of the book.


The volunteer translators are supported throughout the process.

The organising committee created a discussion group for all participants to share information and thoughts, including translation questions and advice. The translators also received background material about the two versions of the Treaty and the differences in meaning, and have access to Treaty expert Dame Claudia Orange, who has been happy to answer various questions. Treaty education organisations such as Network Waitangi Otautahi and the Treaty People have provided information sheets to support the translators in their work.

Source documents 

There are two versions of the Treaty, presenting key differences in meaning. Unfortunately, the number of qualified translators able to translate directly from Māori into a language other than English is too low to allow us to meet our target of 30 languages. This is why we decided to translate the widely used modern English translation of the Treaty by Professor Hugh Kawharu, as published on the NZ History website maintained by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and used by the Treaty2U exhibition organised by Te Papa, the National Library and Archives New Zealand.

We are aware that newer English translations of Te Tiriti are now available, and that some are disappointed we are not using one of them. We might look at updating our translations at a later stage once this project has been completed.

While Treaty Times 30 will make the Treaty and Te Tiriti more accessible to non-native English speakers, it is primarily a translation project that showcases translation best practice and raise the profile of NZSTI.

So where are we at now?

Phase one of the project was launched in early December 2015 within NZSTI. In other words, participation was open to NZSTI members only. Following our public announcement on Waitangi Day 1026, participation was extended to all translators and students of translation with a connection to NZ. We have now invited members of our Australian counterpart to be part of Treaty Times 30.

So far, we have received 151 expressions of interest, i.e. translators who have indicated that they would like to participate. Of those, we have received 84 entries. 57 of those are NZSTI members.

With those 84 entries, we cover 28 languages.

2 of those, Dutch and Greek, have reached phase 3, i.e. we have received a minimum of 3 entries, and the translators have collaborated to produce their final translations.

14 languages are at the collaboration stage: those are Bislama, Chinese (Simplified), Esperanto, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese. This means that we have received at least three entries for those languages, and that the translators are currently working together to finalise the translations.

7 languages are almost there: we have received 2 entries and we are actively recruiting additional translators to meet our target of 3 entries. Those languages are Afrikaans, Arabic, Fijian, Korean, Malay, Nepali and Romanian.

Finally, we have received one entry for 5 languages: Danish, Farsi, Hindi, Javanese and Tagalog. Here too we are doing our best to recruit additional translators to be able to meet our qualification criteria.

If you, or anyone you know, translate into any of those languages, we would love to hear from you. The committee monitors the situation very closely and meets on a regular basis to determine the next steps. We are in the process of shoulder-tapping AUSIT members, and might issue a world-wide call for participation targeting specific languages. We will also need to identify the legal experts who will carry out the final review.

While we had initially hoped to publish the book and gift the translations to New Zealand on International Translation Day 2016, we have now postponed it to early 2017, to coincide with the opening of the permanent exhibition on the Treaty that Archives New Zealand is preparing at the National Library. We have built a very strong partnership with Archives New Zealand, and as a result, the gifting of our translations might take place at the official opening of the exhibition. Archives New Zealand is also interested in using those translations in the exhibition itself. This would be an extraordinary outcome for the project and NZSTI as a whole.

Other supportive institutions worth mentioning are the Office of Ethnic Communities which provides support and guidance, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and the European Union Delegation to New Zealand which granted the project financial support.

The media coverage of the project has also been very positive. We gave an interview to Māori television, spoke with Kim Hill on RNZ and Willie Jackson on Waatea News, and we had several articles published in newspapers. We expect to receive increased attention once the project is complete. The partnership with Archives New Zealand will be key to maximising media exposure.

Another surprising development is what the project inspires. We were contacted by a graphic design professor at the Auckland University of Technology who would like to use our translations for a student project: the aim is to design a 7 story high mural with the translations produced.

As you can imagine, we still have lots to do and would welcome any extra pair of hands. It does not matter if you are not based in Wellington. We work collaboratively, mostly online, and meet regularly in person and using Google Hangouts or Skype. This project has grown from Cecilia’s idea back then in September to an initiative that has attracted national interest and will be of great significance, both to NZSTI and to New Zealand. Not only is Treaty Times 30 making the Treaty and Te Tiriti accessible to migrants and the international community, it is also highlighting the importance of translation in today’s society and raising the profile of NZSTI and its members in New Zealand.

This would not have been possible without the work of all our volunteer translators. On behalf of the organising committee, I would like to thank all of them for their contribution to Treaty Times 30. I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous work that the members of the committee have put into organising this project, and formally thank Cecilia, Ian, Jayne, Mandy, Olga, Sanying, Shirley, and Sylvie for their dedication and passion.

I do invite you all to take part in Treaty Times 30 one way or another. It is truly an exciting initiative, that I am proud to lead.