The Maori are the native inhabitants of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand for about 1000 years ago. Before that, they lived on the island of Hawaiki somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There are sevral different stories about how the Maori came to New Zealand, but the most probable one is that a Maori man named Kupe went out on a fishing trip around 950 AD. He came out of course, and discovered an island. The island looked like it was covered by a long, white cloud. Therefore, Kupe named the island "Aotearoa", or "The Land of the Long White Cloud". This is still the Maori name for New Zealand today.
Kupe returned to Hawaiki to continue his life there, and he told his friends about what he had discovered. But since it was a long and dangerous journey from Hawaiki to Aotearoa, and most of the Maori thought Hawaiki was a nice place to live, no Maori emigrated. However, a couple of hundred years later, the Hawaikian people suffered under shortage of food and overpopulation. They started dreaming of Kupe's island, and some of them left Hawaiki in large canoes, searching for Aotearoa. After weeks of travel, they finally saw an island covered with white clouds appearing in the horizon, and they immediately knew it was Kupe's Aotearoa.
The Maori were not the first ones to populate New Zealand. When the Maori arrived, a small group of people already lived there for centuries. They were turned into slaves or food (!) by the Maori. I don't know anything more about who they were (maybe the Maori ate them all before anyone found out).
For centuries, the Maori culture developed with no interference from other people. But in the 18th century, the European colonization began. With the Europeans, prostitution, new diseases and firearms were introduced to the Maori people. With guns instead of clubs in the tribal wars, there were much more bloodshed, and the future of the Maori people didn't look so bright.
Europeans and the Maori had a lot of disputes over land. In 1840, however, the Maori leaders signed a treaty that said all land sales between the Maori and the Europeans should be done through the Queen of England, something that would ease the Maori situation. The Queen would also get full command over the Maori lands, but the Maori were guaranteed that they would continue to have complete ownership over their lands. This treaty was called "The Treaty of Waitangi". However, the British settlers continued to take Maori land. The Maori tried to protect their lands, but against the superior number and firearms of the British, the Maori didn't stand a chance. The British seemed to have forgotten all about the treaty.
Over the next hundred years, little was done to the good of the Maori people. But today, the future of the Maori looks brighter, read more about that on the "Todays Maori" page.