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State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950



Many Maori came to believe that the chances of even partial success against the might of British imperialism required a mass organisational assertion, one assisted and shaped by insistence that the Crown be held to account over its promise in the Treaty to respect rangatiratanga. While representing a significant experiment in the search for 'realistic' methods page 34of pushing for self-determination within state parameters, the komiti had proved to be too small in scale against a colonial government of marked centralising tendencies. Among the other sites and modes of resistance, some institutions were on a much grander scale.

Kingitanga/Kingism structures were particularly powerful, based on a pan-tribal unity movement centred on the Tainui iwi. Headed by a king, this movement had arisen in the 1850s as an effort to pre-empt the ongoing encroachment of the Crown on the Maori polity. 'Mana motuhake', often translated as separate government, was emblazoned on King Tawhiao's coat of arms. Kingitanga, viewed by the Crown as an attempt to establish a rival sovereignty to that of the state, had been militarily suppressed. After wartime defeat, confiscation of land and forced retreat from the Waikato into the Rohe Potae/King Country, the movement fought on for autonomy in ways other than military.

At first the Kingite leaders experimented with a unilaterally declared 'state within a state' in the King Country. When this proved unviable, they sought to open up their region to economic opportunity, but under their own control. For some time they believed that they had reached a 'compact' with the Crown to achieve at least some measure of this. The arrangement included retention of tribal ownership of lands, with leasing rather than selling to pakeha. But in the 1890s the Crown began divide-and-rule purchasing, while at the same time prohibiting private purchasing (under which sellers might at least have obtained better prices). By 1900 a third of the land had left Maori ownership, and large state inroads had been made into governance of the tribally owned areas.27

Meanwhile, the Kingite leadership had concluded that the Crown's strength lay partly in its centralised unity of purpose: regional unities were insufficient. The movement came to aim for, and in some interpretations had always in essence worked towards, aform of autonomy involving a unified Maoridom that operated alongside the British Crown for some purposes and under its umbrella for others. King Tawhiao told the Secretary of State for the Colonies that 'I am called a king, not for the purpose of separation, but in order that the natives might be united under one race, ever acknowledging the supremacy of the Queen, and claiming her protection'. The Maori MPs asserted in 1883 that Tawhiao page 35was 'the head of our race' and sought 'an elective body of Maoris' to 'get control of our lands', while also affirming that they did not want to 'obstruct the progress of colonisation'. The Kingitanga leaders pursued several possibilities for parallel government, hoping that the Maori people would throw their unified weight behind them and that this would lead to significant government concessions.

While many tribes declined to accommodate a movement which had ambitions to unite all tribes under its own leaders, Kingitanga pressed on nevertheless. After his reconciliation with the government, for example, King Tawhiao tried to get official endorsement for a 'Council of Chiefs' which would both share power with the Crown and attempt to secure 'all the rights and lands confirmed by the Treaty of Waitangi. Kingitanga remained the most unified movement in the quest for autonomy, eventually establishing at Maungakawa in 1892 a Kauhanganui/Great Council headed by a Tumuaki/Premier and a cabinet. But its laws went unrecognised by the Crown.28