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

The Maori Land March

The Maori Land March

In early 1975, the idea of a ‘Maori Land March’ from Te Hapua in the far north to Parliament was discussed. The aim would be to dramatise the entire package of Maori demands and aspirations which had yet to be addressed. The march would focus on the most iconic element of Maori losses and hopes: the land. Plans began to come together at a meeting of tribal representatives convened at Mangere Marae by the founding MWWL president (and National Party stalwart) Whina Cooper. In her address to the hui, Cooper implied that she was operating under the mantle of great Maori leaders such as James Carroll,page 168 Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck, all of whom she had known. She asserted customary Maori protocol through a ‘Memorial of Right’, thereby linking the march to a long tradition of earlier petitions to the Crown, especially those by Kings Tawhiao and Te Rata in 1886 and 1914. But she now viewed the ‘respectable’ tactics of older times, to which the NZMC and MWWL still generally adhered, as somewhat anachronistic. A ‘more dynamic approach’ was needed, she argued, and this struck a chord with listeners of many backgrounds and beliefs.

The planned land march would combine the forces of Nga Tamatoa-type radicalism with the wishes and protocols of traditionalist elders, attracting the support of Maori from both urban areas and rural marae throughout the country. All elements of the incipient movement loosely grouped themselves under a new organisation, Te Roopu Ote Matakite, a title designating ‘those with foresight’. The momentum swept up the NZMC and MWWL, as well as other official and quasi-official organisations. Latimer and MWWL president Mira Szaszy came onto the organising committee, sitting alongside comparatively radical members of the official system such as Ranginui Walker and even more radical activists such as Nga Tamatoa’s Syd Jackson and Titewhai Harawira. The march was to be focused on the ‘twin themes of landlessness and cultural loss’.

When the march first set off from Te Hapua on September 14, there were few on the road, but before long numbers swelled. Marchers sought respect for communal ownership of tribal lands, believing that Labour’s reforms had fallen short. They demanded, in the words of a key slogan, that ‘not one more acre of Maori land’ be alienated. As a leaflet entitled ‘Why We Protest’ explained: ‘Land is the very soul of a tribal people’. The leaflet linked the land with broader autonomist aspirations: ‘[We want] a just society allowing Maoris to preserve our own social and cultural identity in the last remnants of our tribal estate … The alternative is the creation of a landless brown proletariat with no dignity, no mana and no stake in society.’ While the focus was on Maori land and identity, some marchers also emphasised their solidarity with all working people: ‘We see no difference between the aspirations of Maori people and the desire of workers and their struggles.’ By the time the march converged on Parliament on 13 October, publicity was enormous. It had dramatically (in Mason Durie’s words) ‘demonstrated the extent of Maori dissatisfaction’. In a short time, the iconic photograph of Kirk guiding a Maori boy had been overtaken by one of Cooper holding her grand-daughter’s hand, leaving rural Te Hapua to take Maori protest to the heart of government.23

Ministers, especially Minister of Maori Affairs Rata, felt chagrined that the government’s extensive consultation procedures and ‘progressive’ Maori policies and legislation had been ‘rewarded’ in such a way. In the middle of the year, Rata had stated that there was no need for such a protest: thepage 169 points outlined in the ‘Memorial of Rights’ focussing on land control and retention had already been addressed by his government’s legislation on Maori land. As well as implementation of Labour policy, he noted, there had been other initiatives relating to land. Rata and his officials had been working, for example, on the concept of returning to Maori ownership Crown land which was not being used for the purposes for which it had been taken. But, in a sense, the march was not so much about specific land policies or, necessarily, even about land at all. It was a reassertion of autonomist Maori demands and aspirations at a time when the political and social climate was becoming more receptive to them. As one historian later noted, the march represented Maori, at an auspicious moment, ‘symbolically reclaiming the tino Rangatiratanga promised by the Treaty of Waitangi’.

There was an underlying Maori awareness that the government, true to its social democratic roots, continued essentially to believe in ‘equal treatment for all’ rather than in measures that envisaged any kind of ‘separateness’. When ministers talked of replacing Maori integration, with its implication of subsuming Maori within the dominant culture, with policies of ‘full participation’, these seemed seldom to venture far beyond stressing that there was a place for some degree of Maoriness within a predominantly pakeha ‘one nation’. Anything more would risk superseding the social democratic ‘equality’ paradigm, something seen as neither possible (given pakeha opinion) nor desirable (on philosophical grounds). Maori had now taken up the challenge of forcing the Labour government to pay greater respect to rangatiratanga.

23 Walker, ‘Maori People Since 1950’, pp 512–3 (p 513 for ‘not one more acre’ quote); Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, pp 212, 214 (for ‘more dynamic’ quote); Harrison, Graham Latimer, p 99; King, Whina, p 206ff; Butterworth, ‘Aotearoa 1769–1988’, ch 10, pp 5–7 (p 6 for ‘twin themes’ quote); Te Roopu Ote Matakite, ‘Why We Protest’, leaflet, nd, 2004-024-3/02, Maori Organisation on Human Rights, Peter Langdon Franks Papers, Alexander Turnbull Library (for ‘Land is the very soul’ and following quotes); Butterworth and Young, Maori Affairs, pp 110–111; Legat, Nicola, ‘Warrior Woman’, North & South, April 2000, p 67; Durie, Whaiora, p 52 (for ‘demonstrated the extent’ quote); Harris, Hīkoi, pp 68–77.