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Maori and the State: Crown-Māori relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa, 1950-2000

Modernisation and Discrimination

Modernisation and Discrimination

While official state structures were still seen by many Maori as offering a viable means of assisting them handle their own affairs in a variety of fields, government policies remained geared to opposing the emergence of any significant degree of Maori autonomy. The decollectivisation of Maori social organisation, the withering away of most Maori culture and the assimilation of a tribally-based people to European ways all remained the official goal. The 1953 Maori Affairs Act was part of a raft of legislative measures passed that year and shortly afterwards that focused on moving Maori on from (in the words of the historians of the DMA) the ‘communal way of life’. Making Maori individuals and families ‘self-reliant’ was the stated aim of welfare officers. By the mid-1950s, this meant that the officers were ‘primarily concerned to introduce modern ideas’ and assist adaptation to the urban spaces: willingness of Maori to undertake the tasks of an urban manufacturing and service workforce, it was believed, would benefit the economy as a whole, as well as their own future.

Officials sought to counter the persistence of customs which did not fit well with city-based and pakeha-dominated life, such as informal adoption and fostering (matua whangai), large families, customary (extra-legal) marriages, and open and lavish (‘wasteful’) hospitality. Maori customary marriage was ‘invalidated’ in 1953, and an official committee investigated indigenous adoption practices. While its report sought to remove ‘racial discrimination’ by allowing Maori to adopt non-Maori children, the committee was also ‘anxious to encourage the gradual disappearance of the practice of adoption by custom’ within Maoridom. The resultant Adoption Act in 1955 sought to diminish non-legal adoption by enabling Maori to legally adopt children through the relatively informal Maori Land Court, assisted by Maori welfare officers (redesignated child welfare officers for such purposes). Such measures signified much more than the attitudes and policies of the politicians in charge of the nation: they reflected pakeha opinion, now that demographic change had thrust Maori issues before the majority culture.11

The ‘problems’ of Maoridom stemmed, according to the official mindset, from a people finding it difficult to adapt to modern, especially urban, life. Immediately following World War II, many officials and politicians hadpage 35 continued to believe that ‘the Maori problem’ could best be addressed (and contained) in ancestral homelands, an inadvertent compliment to the efficacy of customary and collectivised Maori social control devices. During the war there had been many observations of the negative effects on individuals thrown abruptly into the individualised environment of urban areas. Their ‘loneliness and the feeling of not belonging’ could lead to both personal difficulties and public disorder. But now the increasing visibility of Maori in towns and cities had negative consequences of a different kind. As Maori migrated into the urban landscapes, differences in behaviour and lifestyle from those of pakeha became manifest. They were often frowned upon by ‘mainstream society’, for it was not just official policy which demanded conformity; in an assimilationist society, all minority ethno-cultural groupings were expected to adhere to ‘British ways’. As the migration increased, with official encouragement, tensions grew.

Ways were sought to assist the adjustment, to ease the ‘sense of diffidence in European company’ which was seen to delay assimilation and sometimes promote inter-racial misunderstandings. From 1950 the government pursued a policy of what came to be called ‘pepper-potting’ in the cities. This involved ‘dispersing’, as a later Maori Affairs head would describe it, ‘Maori houses amongst European houses for better integration’, a policy which eventually aimed at one Maori family per street. The practice faced opposition from Maori who wished to live in proximity to other Maori, in an effort to recreate indigenous community in what was a new and difficult environment for them. Conversely, with Maori and pakeha coming into ever greater contact in the suburbs, there were many complaints by pakeha neighbours of ‘unseemly’ Maori behaviour. Welfare officers were often called upon to mediate, with the aim of bringing urban Maori ‘up to scratch’. The transplanting of traditional hospitality to visitors into an urban environment was quickly identified as a key problem. This, combined with overcrowding and poor housing (especially in inner-city areas), led to numerous tensions over such matters as – reportedly – noise at ‘unseemly’ hours, ‘incessant beer drinking, foul language, and generally bad behaviour’. As the most senior DMA bureaucrat put it in the mid 1960s, ‘Maori and island migrants are apt to become unpopular with their pakeha neighbours because of their high-spirited way of enjoying themselves’. Resulting inter-racial tension would drive some Maori, especially those in ‘pepper-potted’ households, to seek out other Maori for socialising and other purposes, sometimes through the medium of the official committees.12

The problems surrounding transference of indigenous cultural and behavioural traits to alien environments were compounded by ‘anti-social’ and extra-legal behaviour by individuals, especially youths, suddenly freed from the relatively ordered and disciplined life of the marae. In official words, the ‘abruptpage 36 change from country to city life … was for the majority of young people the first release from the restraining influence of the family and communal life. The pattern of their upbringing and education has its roots in traditional customs and in the simple rural life of the community’, which ‘poorly equipped’ them to overcome the difficulties of transition to ‘a highly individualistic urban life’. A newspaper writer argued, typically, that the ‘constant drift of Maoris to the towns’ was accompanied by a ‘disquieting amount of delinquency’ and a disturbing decline of moral standards. Whatever the truth of the many pakeha observations, urbanisation clearly involved ongoing disruption in the social structure of Maori life which had ramifications for how Maori were viewed in mainstream society. This latter, in turn, had implications for how Maori could best reconstruct rangatiratanga in the cities.13

It was as a consequence of very many factors that Maori were systemically ‘looked down upon’ as urbanisation grew. Such prejudice existed at the beginning of the urban migration, when there was ‘almost automatic segregation in city slums’, something which assisted the development of the pepper-potting policy. ‘[A]s the white man is confronted with increasing numbers of depressed Maoris, the soil is ripe for the sowing of seeds of racial animosity and strife’, wrote the author of a newspaper article in 1952. The increasing interaction of Maori and pakeha in the cities heightened public discourse on race. ‘Race relations’ in New Zealand had been widely viewed by officials and the public as the best in the world, and even a visiting liberal American academic could write in 1954 of ‘little racial discrimination in New Zealand’. Increasingly, however, relationships between pakeha and Maori were taking ‘a turn for the worse’.

When interracial contact had been ‘virtually non-existent’, as one commentator put it, the ‘pakeha congratulated himself profusely on his tolerance and humanity, proudly proclaimed to the world that no colour bar existed in New Zealand, and scathingly condemned racial bigots in America and South Africa for their treatment of the Negro’. But with pakeha and Maori now increasingly mixing and living together, racist and ethnocentric attitudes escalated, and incidents of ‘racial discrimination’ began coming under public scrutiny. Talk of a ‘colour bar’ being imposed by pakeha upon Maori increased, as did the reporting of discriminatory and racist incidents. There were reports of impediments to Maori people acquiring rented accommodation, securing jobs, drinking in pubs or entering premises of different types, including shops. In 1959, a prominent Maori physician was refused a drink in a hotel, and the publicity and agitation resulting from this and other such incidents led the Prime Minister to make a statement on the ‘legal impropriety of such discrimination’.14

The legality of exclusions upon Maori was in fact a grey area. In any case,page 37 existing or new legislation provided little solution to problems of discrimination in the absence of changes in societal attitudes. The fact was that Maori were often branded as uncivilised and as perpetrators of disorder and crime. This latter attitude could find some support in reports and observations, and Maori leaders were the first to acknowledge the existence of a growing problem. In Manu Bennett’s words, the ‘equilibrium of Maori youth [became] upset’ when they arrived in the city, with consequences that were not atypical in an international context. Observed difficulties of adjustment by young people, however, merely reinforced the prejudice which permeated official and civil society as contact with a people with different customs and lifestyles increased. Indeed, indigenous migrants were frequently perceived as having many negative characteristics. Not only were they felt to be ‘happy-go-lucky’, they were also seen as work-shy, feckless, dangerous or to be ‘taking over’ (especially through intermarriage).

One writer to the minister in 1952 put an inchoate pakeha set of perceptions in their extreme form: ‘allowing the Maoris to associate and work freely amongst the European population is a disgrace. I do not despise any race, but racial purity is a necessity’. With ‘the Maori absorbing the Pakeha through inter marriage to an alarming degree … [t]he colour bar should be put in operation at once to save the white race’. The writer implored the government to stop ‘paying for the Maoris to be lazy, dress up, and procreate’ through the welfare state’s system of pensions and benefits. Some observers argued that urban-dwelling Maori often seemed to internalise the stereotypes they had encountered, and either took on stereotypical characteristics or tried to obliterate their own culture in their daily lives. This was resonant of an international phenomenon of subsumed peoples seemingly ‘accepting’ the inferiority and self-loathing ascribed to them by the colonisers. As a study from the 1960s put it, ‘to the extent that the Maori subscribes to the “bad” prototypal image of himself, he becomes his own oppressor’. One Maori migrant recalled how, on moving to Wellington, she ‘pretended to be a Pākehā because [she] was ashamed’. But even when she desperately tried to conform in the required ways, she remained ‘Maori’ in the eyes of the city folk. ‘We felt like intruders in our own country’.

Racial stereotypes also held sway in official circles. When the Commissioner of Police proposed recruiting Maori to the regular police in 1950, his senior officers were ‘almost unanimously opposed’ for fear that the recruits would be lazy or susceptible to tribal influence. The fact that the police did begin to recruit Maori from late 1952 (following a similar development in the defence forces) indicates that, even inside the official world, attitudes were changing in line with new ideas spreading through society. But as yet, such voices were in a distinct minority, and the alteration in police policy also reflected another circumstance – that the perceived threat to order from urbanpage 38 Maori was considered too great for the Maori warden system alone to handle. The Minister of Maori Affairs chose to emphasise the incipient changes in public and official thinking: ‘Not only can Maori constables be of great assistance working among the Maori people in straightening out some of the present social difficulties, but more important, we would be doing away with discrimination.’ But with urban disorder among migrants increasing, the social control argument became stronger. From 1955, there were greater efforts to attract Maori into the police, with the permanent head of Maori Affairs, Tipi Ropiha, asking his district officers to seek out recruits: success in this would assist ‘in relation to our drinking problems and our own warden system’.15

11 Butterworth and Young, Maori Affairs, p 97 (for ‘communal way’ quote); Labrum, ‘The Essentials of Good Citizenship’, p 449 (for ‘primarily concerned’ quote); Williams, Charlotte, The Too-Hard Basket: Maori and Criminal Justice Since 1980, Wellington, 2001, p 10 (for ‘invalidated’ quote); Anderson, L G, ‘Welfare Requirements in a Multi-racial Society’, in Brookes and Kawharu (eds), Administration in New Zealand’s Multi-racial Society, Wellington, 1967, pp 98–9.

12 Hunn, Jack K, Not Only Affairs of State, Palmerston North, 1982, p 150 (for ‘dispersing’ quote); Ballara, Angela, Proud to Be White? A Survey of Pakeha Prejudice in New Zealand, Auckland, 1986, pp 135–6; Walsh, More and More Maoris, p 12; Walker, ‘Maori People Since 1950’, p 501; Labrum, ‘Bringing families up to scratch’, pp 454–6; Harris, ‘Dancing with the State’, pp 147–9; Pool et al, The New Zealand Family, p 212; McEwen, ‘Urbanisation’, p 82 (for ‘loneliness’, ‘diffidence’ and ‘enjoying themselves’ quotes); Nightingale, ‘Maori at Work’, pp 173–4, 177; Hill, ‘Social Revolution’, pp 3–4 (for ‘bad behaviour’ quote).

13 Department of Maori Affairs, The Maori Today, 1964, ‘Occupations’ section (for ‘abrupt change’ quote); ‘One Race – Or Two?’, Daily Telegraph, 26 Jan 1952, contained in MA 28, 13/13, Box 8, Racial Relationships 1952–57 (for ‘constant drift’ quote).

14 Grainger, J T, ‘Fair and Just: Law for Both Races’, Weekly News, 11 June 1952, p 31 (for ‘almost automatic segregation’ and ‘depressed Maoris’ quotes); Winks, Robin, These New Zealanders, Christchurch, 1954, p 155 (for ‘little racial discrimination’ quote); Ausubel, Maori Youth, p 115 (for ‘turn for the worse’, ‘virtually non-existent’ and following quotes); Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, p 238; Ausubel, David P, The Fern and the Tiki: An American View of New Zealand National Character, Social Attitudes and Race Relations, 1960 (New York ed, 1965), pp 174–9; Thompson, Richard, Race Relations in New Zealand: A Review of the Literature, Christchurch, 1963, pp 31–5 (p 33 for ‘legal impropriety’ quote); Harris, Aroha, Hīkoi: Forty Years of Māori Protest, Wellington, 2004, pp 17–20; Harris, ‘Dancing with the State’, pp 135-7.

15 Hill, ‘Social Revolution’, p 4 (for ‘equilibrium’ quote); Ausubel, The Fern and the Tiki, p 162 (for ‘happy-go-lucky’ quote); Western, Marie to Corbett, Minister of Maori Affairs, 1 Sept 1952 and 10 Nov 1952, MA 28, 13/13, Box 8, Racial Relationships 1952–57 (latter has ‘allowing the Maoris’, ‘the Maori absorbing’ and ‘paying for’ quotes); Archer, Dave and Mary, ‘Race, Identity and the Maori People’, in Webb, Stephen and Collette, John (eds), New Zealand Society: Contemporary Perspectives, Sydney, 1973 (p 124 for ‘to the extent that the Maori subscribes’ quote); Ballara, Proud to be White? pp 143–50; Edwards, Mihi, Mihipeka: Time of Turmoil, Auckland, 1992, p 188 (for ‘pretended to be a Pākehā’ quote) and back cover (for ‘We felt like intruders’ quote); Smithies, Ruth, Ten Steps Towards Bicultural Action: A Handbook on Partnership in Aotearoa–New Zealand, Wellington, 1990, p 16; Butterworth and Butterworth, Policing and the Tangata Whenua, p 15 (for ‘almost unanimously’ quote), p 17 (for ‘in relation to our drinking’ quote); Nightingale, ‘Maori at Work’, pp 153–4.