The Treaty of Waitangi will remain a "sacred compact" for New Zealanders while debate over it continues, says Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.
In his Waitangi Day address at Government House in Auckland, Sir Jerry said both Maori and Pakeha had reasons for signing the treaty in 1840 and for committing to a relationship together.
He believed it represented hope for a better future.
"As we know, the ink had barely dried on the parchment before there were misunderstandings and disagreements as to what, in effect, the treaty meant," Sir Jerry said.
"There were many subsequent years in which it was considered by some to be a relic, an irrelevance, a nullity."
“As the nation continued to debate the treaty, it did so while recognising its fundamental importance," he said.
"In recent years, successive governments have made explicit and constructive efforts to address the inequities of the past, and to compensate for treaty breaches by the Crown.
"I have no doubt that debates will continue. But the spirit of that `sacred compact' - a new way of two peoples living together - remains integral to Aotearoa New Zealand, and to the nature and texture of our nation, and to our enduring democracy."
The "sacred compact" reference came from the Bledisloe Prayer that the then governor-general Lord Bledisloe composed for the first Waitangi Day ceremony in 1934.
Sir Jerry also noted that February 6 is by "historical coincidence" the date Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne and Wednesday marks the end of her Diamond Jubilee year.
"As of today, she has been 61 years on the throne - more than a third of the time since the treaty was signed.
"In that period we have continued to develop our own distinctive national character."