Maori and the State: Crown-Māori relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa, 1950-2000
The Hikoi ki Waitangi was, in part, a response to years of intransigent conservative rule under National and an accompanying reluctance by the Labour opposition to ‘rock the boat’ too greatly on indigenous issues. But direct-action or confrontational protest tactics had not been to the taste of very many Maori who preferred to pursue their cultural and political agendas through more conventional channels. After the Labour defeat of 1975, however, Maori working inside the party had been quickly disappointed by the leadership’s fear of engendering a ‘racial’ backlash among constituents. This was primarily a consequence of widespread pakeha support for the Muldoon government’s populist, ethnocentric and sometimes racist messages. Although integration had been officially abandoned and ‘Maori self-reliance’ was being encouraged in its stead, National’s policies remained infused with the assimilationist attitudes and assumptions of the past.
In the eyes of many Maori, even those of traditionalist ilk, Labour’s caution seemed to indicate that integrationism lived on within its ranks, too, especially inside its parliamentary wing. Matiu Rata was particularly frustrated with the situation. National had created, for its own reasons, a programme for Maori self-reliance along directions that he and his advisers had been proposingpage 179 during the third Labour government. Instead of regarding both his reforms and National’s new policies as a beginning, the Labour leadership was now tending to back away from further progress towards rangatiratanga. Rata gradually came to consider that his own ‘party had become “insensitive” to and “neglectful” of the interests of the Maori people’. While protest-focused movements were getting great publicity for Maori causes, however, Rata and his followers saw that their methods and demands were alienating many Maori (and pakeha). Towards the end of the decade, he felt that it was time to offer a political movement less conservative than Labour and less frightening than ‘direct action’ protest.
On 6 November 1979, he announced his intention to resign from the Labour Party. This dramatic step by ‘the most influential Maori politician of his generation’ epitomised the frustration of many Maori inside the party who agreed that ‘we must command our own destiny’. Rata argued, on the basis of his own experience, that Maori would always be marginalised if they remained inside the big political parties. Pursuit of self-determination required an independent nationwide campaign. At a meeting attended by a wide cross-section of Maoridom, Rata announced that he would promote a new ‘movement’ based on a vision of ‘mana Maori motuhake’. It would work for social and political autonomy, and he hoped that it would gain the support of Kingite and Ratana followers. He stopped short as yet of forming a new party, as it would be vulnerable to attack from ‘enemies’ until the appropriate foundations had been laid. His movement, ‘more than a political party’, was endorsed by the Auckland District Maori Council, which technically represented almost a quarter of Maori in New Zealand. Its secretary and chair, Hohepa and Walker respectively, became the key theorists and philosophers of mana motuhake. Given the speed of the movement’s growth, a party soon appeared to be viable, and Rata announced that he would resign from Parliament. He launched the Mana Motuhake Party at an Easter hui in 1980 at Tira Hou Marae in Auckland.38
Walker was instrumental in developing the new party’s policy framework, arguing that what was required was a ‘total institutional transformation of New Zealand society from monocultural dominance to bicultural sharing’. This was an autonomist vision of Maori partnership with, not separation from, the Crown and pakeha culture. Mana Motuhake, then, did not reflect the most radical voices in Maoridom. There was no proposal for a Maori parliament or an exclusively Maori sphere of decision-making. Rather, national institutions and public authorities needed to be reshaped to reflect the bicultural direction of New Zealand society. Maori institutions should be allowed to get on with things mostly or wholly pertaining to Maori, while interacting with the state in partnership arrangements. The emphasis would be on local andpage 180 regional self-determination, with authority devolved to revitalised traditional institutions such as runanga, albeit within the framework of Parliament-based governance and structures. The basic policy, Rata announced, was to establish ‘communal authority by restoring to the people the power of decision-making on all matters affecting their affairs’. The party sought ‘the beginning of a cooperative society’ rather than one dominated by a competitive ethos.
On a philosophical level, Mana Motuhake should not have alarmed those who valued social democracy. But with its dominance of the Maori electoral constituency under threat, Labour fought back vigorously. Rata was defeated at the by-election for the Northern Maori seat on 7 June 1980. Labour was, however, rattled at the level of public assistance he had received from Maori leaders, and by the fact that he took a very respectable 37.9% of the vote (to Labour’s 52.4%); the party was on notice that the reforms of 1972–75 were insufficient and that its alliance with Ratana seemed shaky. In the period after the by-election, New Zealand was convulsed by political turbulence which provided fertile ground for Mana Motuhake’s campaigning. In particular, massive protest centring on race issues was beginning, particularly around the planned 1981 tour by the South African national rugby team. Matters such as the oppression of indigenous people worldwide and ways of rectifying this were under discussion in many quarters. The objectives adopted by the Mana Motuhake Party in November 1980 brought together many strands of thought relating both to the past, especially the demand for reparations for breaches of the Treaty by the Crown, and to a future based on ‘self-reliance and advancement of the Maori’.39
Mana Motuhake positioned itself as a recent manifestation of historical movements for Maori unity and self-determination, including Ratana and Kotahitanga. It had chosen one of the terms analogous to rangatiratanga to encapsulate its cause. It aimed to build political solidarity between the diverse strands of Maoridom and to minimise competition with traditional tribal or religious organisations. ‘We are all fighting for reform in our different ways’, its leaders said. Many radical activists believed the party’s emphasis on common struggle, necessary to ensure the inclusion of conservative Maori, meant a compromised stance – one that might weaken its commitment to meaningful exercise of rangatiratanga, or even divert detribalised Maori from truly autonomist goals. But Rata and key advisers were determined to unite radicals and traditionalists under a party of Maori unity. Mana Motuhake’s proposals for organised Maoridom superimposed regional representation upon tribal, and during the 1981 general election campaign it presented a platform emphasising both self-determination and biculturalism in the social and political life and institutions of New Zealand. It came second in each of the four Maori seats.page 181
Although many Maori declined to follow Rata out of the Labour orbit, the advent of Mana Motuhake was undoubtedly of great significance within Maoridom. A new party of considerable credibility was attempting to lead an essentially pan-Maori pursuit of rangatiratanga within the parliamentary system. Its election result has been described as ‘the most spectacular launching of a political party since the appearance of the Ratana Movement’. Its policies and support levels constituted an affirmation that the ‘fraud’ and ‘honour’ positions on the Treaty of Waitangi were not incompatible. Whatever the original motivation behind the British drawing up of the Treaty, and whether people believed it had embodied fraudulent intent or not, Maori had always pushed for the promises made by the Crown in 1840 to be honoured. Mana Motuhake was another in a long line of organisations that had ideas on how that ‘honouring’ should be observed and how best to organise to secure it.40
The new party’s aim of uniting diverse groups of Maori across the country in pursuit of a common political goal was based on a vision of cultural unity. As a Maori academic had put it in 1975, Maori people, rural and urban, tribal and detribalised, all shared ‘a common cultural identity and a strong desire to retain this identity on their own initiative’. Political and socio-economic forces may have seemed about to overwhelm them at points in the twentieth century, but a determined ‘desire to pursue common interests together on the basis of a shared cultural heritage irrespective of tribal origin’ had ensured powerful and ongoing resistance within Maoridom to assimilation to ‘the west’.41
38 Hazlehurst, Political Expression, p 49 (for ‘the most influential Maori’ quote), pp 51–5 (p 53 for ‘the party had become’ quote), pp 61–3 (p 62 for ‘more than a political party’ quote), pp 72–3; Walker, Ranginui J, ‘Mana Motuhake’, in Amoamo (ed), Nga Tau Tohetohe (original published in New Zealand Listener, 4 Aug 1980); Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, p 228 (for ‘we must command’ quote); King, Michael, Nga Iwi, p 96.
39 Hazlehurst, Political Expression, p 73 (for ‘total institutional transformation’ quote), pp 74–75, 94, p 103 (for ‘self-reliance and advancement’ quote), p 127 (for ‘communal authority by restoring’ quote).
40 Butterworth, ‘Aotearoa 1769–1988’, ch 10, pp 19–22; Hazlehurst, Political, pp 153, 164 (for ‘all fighting for reform’ quote), p 165; Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, p 244; McLeay (ed), New Zealand Politics, pp 236, 248–9; King, Maori, p 253 (for ‘the most spectacular’ quote).
41 Kawharu, ‘Introduction’, in Conflict and Compromise, p 4 (for ‘a common cultural identity’ and ‘desire to pursue’ quotes).