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



Unity under a king was only one sort of unity, and a number of tribes were working on solutions based on Maori unity through intertribal cooperation. Such efforts underpinned Maori efforts in the 1880s and 1890s to get real powers for their representative committees. These 'federal' Maori unification movements have generically, and sometimes specifically, been known as kotahitanga. Some sought to emulate and complement the Crown's parliamentary system, an aim mostly associated with tribes which had a history of co-operation with the Crown. It was partly because collaboration had less value for the Crown once the wars were over that such tribes sought to enhance their influence by increasing their pan-tribal critical mass. In 1879 Te Arawa tribes established a 'Great Committee' with the potential to expand beyond their region. That year too a meeting to discuss the establishment of a Maori parliament (based on komiti) was hosted by Ngati Whatua at Orakei. In 1881 'Te Komiti o Te Tiriti o Waitangi' was set up at Waitangi, with its own parallel authorities and annual meetings.

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In 1886, the year Tawhiao asked the government to agree to a 'Council of Chiefs', the Crown had deemed the colony's inhabitants — Maori and pakeha — to have finally been 'pacified'. State-desired modes of social behaviour were assessed as having been generally accepted by most citizens. The state authorities, therefore, saw no need to alter existing constitutional arrangements. Maori pressure increased, especially after intertribal hui in 1888-9 began preparations for a 'Maori union at Waitangi' that could make decisions on matters relevant to all Maori. Progress was co-ordinated from 1890 by northern iwi regarded as guardians of the Treaty, to which kotahitanga looked for its mandate. At the beginning of the new decade, various large pan-tribal meetings indicated that the demand for a separate Maori authority had spread out far beyond Kingitanga. Such instincts for unity resulted partly from Maori alarm at the demographic data which had caused pakeha to believe they were a dying race. Even those many Maori who did not believe their race would physically disappear were aware that united action was needed if the Crown and settler goal of full cultural assimilation was to be resisted.

In 1892 a hui at Te Tiriti o Waitangi marae in the Bay of Islands agreed to build on many precursor meetings and networks and formally establish the unity movement Te Kotahitanga o Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Unity of the Treaty of Waitangi, to be headed by a parliament. Its main purpose was to procure the honouring of the Treaty promise of rangatiratanga, tying this especially to retention of the remaining land-base. One of its platforms, for example, was abolition ofthe Native Land Court in favour of 'native committees' more sensitive to Maori needs and wants. But its bid was essentially for parallel state institutions within the New Zealand colonial nation-state. The main Kotahitanga method for achieving this, as the parliament's first Speaker was to say, would be strength through unity ofthe tribes from 'the four winds'. Without unity of the tribes, Maori aspirations would be treated as 'the murmuring of the wind'.29

In response to such strengthened politico-racial assertion, in the last decade of the century the state became more averse than ever to Maori unification. This it saw not only as a threat to its plans to alienate the bulk of remaining Maori-owned land, but also to its sovereign authority. page 37Both land and sovereignty were key factors in a refrigeration-based technological drive to 'recolonise' New Zealand as an essential supplier of the Mother Country's meat and dairy products. What had only half a century before been nominally independent 'Aotearoa' would now become the most loyal, if most distant, outpost of empire. In this 'Better Britain', in effect, assimilation was deemed to have occurred almost by definition. In 1892 it was announced that the Native Department was to be abolished; in the following year 'Maori became amenable to the ordinary legal machinery of the land'.

With Maori now placed under the same jurisdiction as pakeha, the Native Land Court and related state bodies remained the sole agencies dealing specifically with Maori matters. A royal commission later noted that, in terms of legal issues, by the end of the nineteenth century the question of separate institutions for Maori 'had been settled, if not resolved. Except in respect of Maori land and certain related matters, the Maori people were to be governed almost completely by the English derived law.' In terms of Crown actions, then, the very opposite to endorsing rangatiratanga had occurred.30

At the time, both state and settler pronouncements remained full of optimism about the full assimilation of Maori. This merged into an opinion in even the most 'progressive' of pakeha thinkers that, in the 1901 words of the President of the National Council of Women, 'Maori and pakeha have become one people'. At the very least there was a firm belief that the disappearance of Maori separatism, if not of Maori culture or 'bloodlines', was nigh. One of the Native Department's last statements, in the colony's 1892 Official Handbook, predicted that the 'so-called Maori King' had been tamed as a result of his acceptance of a government pension. 'This is looked upon as an auspicious event, and it is hoped that it will lead to the end of the "King movement", which, although it has lost much of its former power, has, nevertheless by its existence, tended to maintain an isolation injurious to both races.'

But it was in this very year, alongside Kingitanga's revivalist strategising, that kotahitanga tribes with a history of support for (or at least non-opposition to) the Crown finally established a Maori Parliament. The new institution provided another forum for pan-tribal Maori opinion page 38and action aimed at holding the remaining Maori land, among other matters. But in this and the various regrouping and fight-back efforts to resist assimilation, the push for a form of authorised parallel government was the key feature. Unity-based organisational assertion has persisted to the present. But unity has not usually been the ultimate aim. In a tribally rooted society, the push for unity generally represented away of achieving a goal rather than itself constituting the goal. The Maori aim was always Crown recognition of their right to run 'their own' affairs without state interference.31

While Maori were deemed sufficiently subject by 1886 to hegemonic norms for the Crown to be generally satisfied with the state of social order, the fact remained that almost all Maori had resisted full assimilation. But Maori had still to grapple with the fact that, assuming the official 'best case' scenario did not eventuate — that Maori did not fade away altogether as a physically present 'race' — total assimilation remained the Crown and pakeha aspiration. A Member of Parliament would put the matter succinctly: 'The objective of a good Native policy should be the Europeanising of the Maori.' Even indigenous bids for 'loyal self-determination' had been perceived as too much of a threat to the sanctity of the Crown and the settler capitalism it represented. Indeed, in the 1890s Kotahitanga was in the Crown's eyes a bigger problem than Kingitanga, even though it tended to be based in tribes which had been considered allies or neutrals.

Such hostility to a relatively 'friendly' grouping indicated the depth of the problem from a Maori perspective, and the firmness of purpose Maori needed. The numbers backing the unity method rose. The movement was particularly spurred on by increasing awareness of the Liberal government's determination to get pakeha 'small farmers' onto the land. The implication from the beginning was that this would be at least partly at the expense of what was left of the tribal patrimony, despite much rhetoric about 'bursting up' the big pakeha estates; as events turned out, it was mostly at Maori expense.

The Kotahitanga movement would centre on the deliberations of its annual Maori Parliament/Paremata Maori. At its first meeting at Waipatu in June 1892, with typical Maori capacity for adaptation it took on the page 39contours and procedures of the 'pakeha parliament'. An elaborate structure of (tribally based) electorates, prime minister and ministerial portfolios was created at central level. Organisational networks would report or relate to it — anetwork of marae-based women's committees (NgaKomiti Wahine), for example, was responsible for 'overseeing and attending to general health and well-being'.

During a decade-long attempt to gain official recognition as a complement, or at the very least a supplement, to the 'Wellington Parliament', the Maori Parliament sought legislative autonomy on the basis of the Treaty's second article. It also cited section 71 of the 1852 Constitution Act, whose provisions for discrete (and intended to be temporary) 'Native Districts' had never been taken up. While it had a loyalist base, Kotahitanga embodied an unprecedented degree of Maori unity, and it worked diligently to 'show how parallel institutions might work in New Zealand'. Because of such success it even gained the cooperation of (though not merging with) the Kingitanga.32