Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

The Young Maori Party

The Young Maori Party

Meanwhile, a new generation of Maori leaders, educated the pakeha way, believed that full tribally based autonomy was not only unviable but undesirable. They became mediators between the Crown and the powerful unity movements, proving instrumental in procuring 'compromises' that were deemed to be measures of self-government. In 1900 the Crown made what seemed to be significant colony-wide concessions to autonomy — legislating for land management and 'local government' organisations for Maori.

Since most pakeha continued to believe the tangata whenua were a dying race, a perception that persisted for another two decades or so (until the Maori demographic revival recorded in the statistics from the page 44turn of the century could no longer be regarded as temporary), the timing of this initiative might seem surprising. But the state needed to put in place a new set of 'new institutions', whether or not Maoridom was dying, to divert pressure from Kotahitanga and its semi-ally Kingitanga-pressure that had intensified among Maori concerned about the 'survival of the race'. Throughout empires it was typical that, after initial resistance to colonisation from 'traditional leaders' attempting to preserve customary authority, younger 'modernisers' schooled in compromise rose to leadership positions. New Zealand wasno exception. The main mediators between the Crown and Maori were highly educated young men loosely associated under a succession of names. After precursor groupings, the movement found firm footing in the Te Aute College Students' Association (TACSA), established in 1897. But at the time and afterwards it was generally called after an early nickname given to it by Apirana Ngata — the Young Maori Party. This reflected his political interests, and the group eventually became officially known by that name.35

Often depicted as total converts to western ways and proselytisers for assimilation, in fact the Young Maori Party members generally sought to combine the technological, cultural and other benefits of European civilisation with preserving 'the best' of Maori culture. Only in this way could Maori 'save the race'. The grouping was following in the footsteps of elders who, since the 1880s, had sought western knowledge 'to do the things that the Pakeha did for his material welfare, without, however, unduly straining the fundamentals of our community life or our tribal organisation'. Ngata put it this way in his proverb 'The Challenge':

E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o tou ao,
To ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha
Hei ara mo to tinana.
To ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori
Hei tikitiki mo to mahuna.
[Grow up o tender youth, in the time of your generation,
Your hand reaching for the Pakeha tools
For your physical well being.
Your heart dedicated to the treasures of your ancestors
As a plume upon your head.]

page 45

Young Maori Party members understood that, even had they been so inclined, total or overt resistance to the state and settlement would have been counter-productive. They were well aware of the overwhelming might of the Crown, its command of the forces of coercion and its control of the apparatus of hegemony. 'Insurrection and agitation are in no way constructive, and the weight of the state opposes them', as one sympathiser later put it. They had, then, to work within existing state structures and imperatives. They saw that they needed to work within existing Maori structures too, and so sought to work with both traditional chiefs (on many of whom they bestowed honorary membership) and newer constructs such as Kingitanga.36

The obstacles were great. Despite the 'kind of equality' that existed under colonial law, 'no real participation in the European order-economically, socially, or even politically' had eventuated for Maori. A combination of state and pakeha attitudes and Maori refusal to assimilate had manifested itself in tangata whenua 'withdrawal'. The Young Maori Party proclaimed the need for change within Maoridom to counteract the 'dangerous hopelessness' of retreat to 'primitive' tribalism, which seemingly led to racial extinction. Instead, a constructive engagement was needed that might protect the best components of Maoridom. From this would come 'fusion' of the two peoples on the highest of planes, a state that would induce in Maori 'pride of race', in pakeha respect for the tangata whenua, and 'the practical salvation of the Maori race' from marginalisation or even extinction.

The Young Maori Party leaders were, like those of Kotahitanga, principally from tribes which had histories of past co-operation with the Crown: Ngati Porou, Arawa and Te Atiawa, for example. Some degree of collaborative endeavour between indigenous people and colonial state is one of several possible forms of adjustment to colonisation. Some scholars of empire in fact argue that it was the most subtle and (at least at times) effective form of resistance to full subjugation by the imperial power. Even had they been interested in mobilising tribal or other structures in the pursuit of a separatist self-determination, the Young Maori Party knew that any such efforts would be negated by suppressive, appropriative or hegemonic reaction by the Crown. Rather than acting page 46against or attempting to operate in parallel with the state and settlers, then, Maori should work together with them. By accepting in effect that they had been overwhelmed by a stronger polity, Maori could utilise western science, medicine, communications and other aspects of European culture for their own well-being. Preservation and renewal of those facets of their own culture which they did see as highly desirable was possible only within the paradigm of British ideas, policies and culture.37

The Young Maori Party members were therefore prepared to pay a high cultural price to secure socio-economic progress. But, whatever many history books have said, this did not mean 'progress at any price'. 'Typical' Young Maori Party statements such as 'Communism has been the death trap of the Maori race' or arguments that there was for Maori 'no alternative but to become a pakeha' have been taken out of context, obscuring the fact that it was because they wanted to protect their own people and culture from subsumption or annihilation that the Young Maori Party met, formulated and acted.

Maui Pomare, the most assimilationist of the Young Maori Party leaders, had listened to the plea of his dying father to 'seek the wisdom of the white man' and warned his people against separatist thought: 'We have one king, one country, and we should have one law.' But even the adaptation to the pakeha world that he preached was in order that Maoridom survived as a discernible entity. To this effect the Young Maori Party aim included stopping 'inappropriate' customs (especially those that had 'degenerated' as a result of colonisation) as well as retaining those that were deemed to be appropriate, salvageable and commensurate with absorbing the skills of the pakeha. The 'accumulation of Pakeha knowledge', in short, while necessary, was far from sufficient. The Young Maori Party, then, represented a response to state aspirations to incorporate Maori into economic, legal, socio-cultural and political life entirely on its own terms — a response that sought to combine 'the best of both worlds' in producing a 'blended culture'. The man who would become its most influential leader, Apirana Ngata, would even sometimes come to expound a form of separate development, albeit within the parameters of settler capitalism.

To effect its aims, the Young Maori Party joined the many other page 47Maori at the end of the nineteenth century who saw the need for united action. This was a prerequisite if they were to avoid being swamped by the western civilisation they otherwise welcomed. Through united action, Maoridom could preserve appropriate elements of its own culture while taking up the many desirable ideas, technologies and lifestyles of the pakeha. Young Maori Party views in a sense codified adjustment strategies by different Maori groupings, including those of kupapa in the war years. Maori would learn from and, in Te Rangihiroa/Peter Buck's words (the dual name is significant), bring 'his equal contribution to the partnership with the Pakeha'.

The Young Maori Party and the unity movements spoke to one another with some understanding on such matters, although the party's strident denouncing of tribalist 'negative isolation' and 'disillusioned fatalism' caused severe tensions. While tribalism made Maori in Young Maori Party eyes 'the conscious or unconscious players in the final scene of the tragedy of decadence', the unity movements wanted federal, tribally based action. However, unity/kotahitanga perspectives sat well with the Young Maori Party's call for a 'new race-pride and race-consciousness' through 'self-respect' and 'self-reorganisation'.

The views of Ngata, Buck, Pomare and their co-thinkers became highly significant for all Maoridom towards the turn of the century when, no longer able to ignore the clamour of the unity movements, the government turned principally to the Young Maori Party for advice and mediation with Kotahitanga and Kingitanga. The result was two sets of what were depicted then, and have often been interpreted since, as large concessions to the Maori demand for self-government.38