State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950
Chapter Two — Seeking Political Autonomy in the Early Twentieth Century
Seeking Political Autonomy in the Early Twentieth Century
Just as the search for autonomy by Maori had been fundamental to Maoridom in the nineteenth century, it remained at the heart of Maori aspirations throughout the twentieth. For decade after decade 'Maori people in each district constantly endeavoured to find ways to control their own affairs, proclaim their group identity whether as tribe or hapu, and enrich their lives; they aimed at enhancing the mana of the hapu in their inner affairs, and sometimes that of the tribe as they looked outward, striving to control their land and membership and take their affairs out of the hands of government.' But the Urewera example soon revealed that the Crown would not contemplate any meaningful tribally based autonomy, even in areas of minimal interest for settlement at that time. The best chance of major concessions, then, seemed to lie with the powerful unity movements.
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
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.]
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
Mediation and legislation
The Crown, while refusing official recognition of the Kotahitanga Parliament, tolerated it so long as it did not explicitly claim to impinge on British sovereign rights. But even Kotahitanga's mildest request, for a Maori subsidiary of the 'pakeha parliament', was considered an implicit challenge to sovereign indivisibility. While by 1899 attendance at the Paremata Maori was declining because of its lack of practical successes, page 48the Crown remained perturbed at mass Maori acceptance of the Kotahitanga demands. Ministers sought a safety valve. It was through the services of Carroll, who rejected autonomy but saw the need to retain some Maori customs and land, that they turned to 'moderate' Maori reformists for ideas and advice.
For some time Ngata, Heke, Tureiti Te Heuheu Tukino and others had taken heed of the Crown's attempts (however desultory) to sanction and make use of 'native committees'. While some influential Maori such as Kaihau continued to press to officialise the Maori Parliament, they had been seeking a more attainable solution, legal status for the committees. Many ideas for this were in the air. In 1896, for example, Ngati Porou advocated 'Maori Committees' with the power to 'keep the peace, observe the law and determine those activities which they feel necessary for their well being'. While from its beginning the Young Maori Party had noted the need to meld Maori and pakeha ways, it had quickly seen an opportunity in many existing Maori demands and in the Urewera experiment. It was soon campaigning, along with some tribes, for local Maori self-government through statutory recognition of the komiti system, and for representative Maori involvement in deciding the future of tribal land. It sought the support of traditional leaders and elders, and organised meetings in Maori pa/villages.39
Given so many past rejections of their aspirations, and the Liberal government's policy of wholesale acquisition of Maori land, large numbers of Maori were suspicious of any watering-down of goals. With persistence, however, the Young Maori Party and their co-thinkers persuaded many Kotahitanga activists that adapting the committee system to the machinery of state was the only demand then viable. In a sense, both Kotahitanga and a newer, younger kotahitanga were beginning to converge over ways of working together for the common Maori good. At the same time, influenced by Carroll and the Young Maori Party, the government was coming to believe that conceding limited self-government and land management might be a controllable and economic way of meeting Maori demands.
This process would not be easy, given European attitudes to indigenous power and the government's resonance with a pakeha electorate that page 49was at best ethnocentric and at worst racist. An Auckland newspaper's reference to 'that inherent detestation of the white races, and especially of British peoples, towards anything which savours of rule by coloured or native races' indicates the depth of the problem. But by 1898 Seddon was willing, on expedient grounds, to consider universalising the principles underpinning the Urewera legislation. While full assimilation was still the aim, the pace — especially on land and political matters — would be in effect slowed or even suspended by such a system. Yet it was also hoped that it would enable acceleration of other facets of assimilation and detribalisation, such as the introduction of western health services, something stressed by Carroll and the Young Maori Party.
While the party acted as mediator with Kotahitanga and other Maori movements, it was Carroll who in turn mediated between it and the Crown. He liaised particularly with Seddon and with Ngata, who was made 'travelling secretary' of TACSA in 1899. While Maori remained generally suspicious of the government, even though (and also because) its overtures were headed by the Premier, the Young Maori Party and its co-thinkers assisted the growing acceptance of a form of devolved local power. Their persuasion was such that at the March 1900 Maori Parliament at Ohinemutu in Rotorua, a subcommittee was selected to draft a Bill for the proposed new institutions. Chaired by Heke with Ngata's assistance, this body reached a unanimous conclusion which was then endorsed by the Paremata Maori. In effect, Kotahitanga had rescinded its minimal demand for official endorsement of a standing national Maori representative body.
The suggested institutions were to be based partly on previous experiments: the 'official runanga' of the 1860s, the Maori Committees of the 1880s, and Crown-tolerated de facto iwi and hapu social control mechanisms among tribes such as Ngati Porou. Since the draft plans provided for state supervision, and in the final analysis state control, of the proposed committees, the government accepted them in principle. Seddon himself introduced into the House of Representatives two Bills, drafted by Carroll and Heke (assisted by Ngata), which embodied the ideas which had emerged within the Kotahitanga fold. One was to do with land (discussed in Chapter Three), and the other politics. During page 50their fine-tuning and passage through the chambers of Parliament the government sought advice from TACSA, and the Bills passed without difficulty and became law in October 1900.40
Maori Councils established
The political legislation, the Maori Councils Act, provided for elected, self-governing bodies in the rural areas where most Maori lived. In particular, the Maori Councils were authorised to control the 'health and welfare and moral well-being' of Maori. They would operate at regional level, laying down rules of social control through bylaws valid within their own boundaries, which were designed to reflect meaningful tribal clusters. Beneath them, elected village committees/komiti marae would supervise and enforce their rules in the small communities in which most Maori lived. These worked with non-official flax-roots organisations such as Kotahitanga's Komiti Wahine, which became commonly known as 'Ladies Committees'.
On the surface, the legislation provided for devolved local government powers which approached those of boroughs and town boards. The operation of the Maori Councils (nineteen were initially established) was to be heavily constrained and guided by the state, as one might expect from the Crown-Young Maori Party collaboration in their emergence. But they were designed to draw their energies from the rhythms of everyday tribal life. Thus the unity movements, as collaborations of tribally based bodies, had backed the ideas behind the legislation. They appreciated that the Councils marked a break from the effective exclusion of Maori from New Zealand political processes, and that the Crown accepted that they would broadly reflect tribal configurations and operate accordingly.
For its part, the Crown's short-term aim was to indicate that nationwide tribal unity of organisation and action was unnecessary. More generally, it sought to appropriate tribally based vitality and steer it in a 'safe' direction that would ultimately contribute to assimilation. Sections of the legislation which allowed Maori custom were thus qualified by others which worked in the opposite direction, such as suppression of page 51Maori notions of compensatory punishment for offenders. While the Crown had not abandoned its view that (in C W Richmond's words) the desired virtues of '[c]hastity, decency and thrift cannot exist amidst the waste, filth and moral contamination of the Pahs', it believed the Maori Councils could be used to lay the groundwork for removal of the 'communistic' way of life that allegedly perpetuated this state of affairs.
The official village committees were often easy to establish, as many were based on pre-existing komiti. For such matters of communal and state interest as sanitation, they had coercive powers over their people. Their tasks of enforcing Maori Council bylaws and local regulations and of carrying out specified devolved state duties were often assisted by the appointment of their own policemen. Ever since the founding of the colony the Crown had used the services of Maori to help control, and if necessary coerce, Maori and sometimes pakeha citizens. This function had been carried out continuously in many Maori communities whether or not there was official sanction for it. The various pan-tribal, religious and other Maori movements had their own systems for imposing and maintaining order – Kingitanga's watene and Ringatu's pirihimana, for example, controlled their own adherents. Maori and state interests often coincided in large areas of rule enforcement.41
Where there were actual or perceived discrepancies between the needs of the state and those of Maori, however, the Crown was always proactive to ensure that its requirements prevailed. There were incentives for the Maori Council system to promote social control measures that met the Crown's wishes; its structures, for example, were to be funded partly from fines levied under approved bylaws. With Council and komiti representatives, assisted by their own policemen (often working in arrangement with regular constables), controlling 'suppression of injurious customs such as drinking and gambling' and other behaviours considered undesirable, the Crown gained an extra enforcement regime at no cost to itself.
Moreover, some Maori Council activities that had been devolved by Parliament removed sources of strife between Crown and tribespeople, placing the onus on Maori authorities. In the past, for example, collecting the dog tax had been a matter of contention and tension. For the state, page 52dog-tax enforcement was partly a way of reducing the number of dogs and thereby minimising danger to settlers' farm stock. Quite apart from their incapacity to pay, given a semi-subsistence lifestyle, Maori viewed the tax as an assault on their way of life. The issue had been the catalyst for the last armed rebellion against the Crown in the nineteenth century, the 'Hokianga Dog Tax Rebellion' of 1898.
The Maori communities themselves were now given the task of collecting the tax. As it was to be one of the Maori Councils' main sources of revenue, there was a great deal of incentive to collect. If they were to make full use of the Maori self-management system set up by the Crown, then, the komiti marae had to work actively to extract what was seen as an unjust tax. Some Maori argued from the beginning that, rather than being organisations to empower Maori, the Maori Councils and their committees were nothing more than agencies of the state. The whole structure was characterised in some quarters, in fact, as the Ture Kuri or Dog Law.
The Young Maori Party had been invited to draft model bylaws to guide the Maori Councils. It had done so, with Crown requirements firmly in mind, at its annual conference in December 1900. This was held in association with Kotahitanga's hui in Wanganui and so the Crown agenda, mediated by the party, was furthered in the heart of the major unity movement. The model bylaws emphasised such matters as the suppression of what were seen as 'pernicious customs', and some Maori observers were distinctly uneasy about what such phrases really meant.
There were also suspicions of the Crown's intentions from Kingitanga, which (correctly) believed that the state's primary aim with the new institutions was to head off kotahitanga. From the beginning, the government had explored various ways of gaining sufficiently widespread acceptance of the Maori Council system to supersede Kotahitanga and Kingitanga. It had decided that a colony-wide pan-tribal body placed above the local and district structures was necessary. But this could not be allowed to be too powerful. Thus the shapers of the system found a relatively anodyne solution, with the Act allowing for general conferences of Maori Council representatives.
In the event, this was not sufficient to head off Kingitanga, which page 53within a year had rejected the new institutions and set about establishing its own local committees. However, the main perceived threat to the Crown's indivisible sovereignty doctrine had been Kotahitanga, and here it had success. From the time of the legisation it attempted to persuade the Maori Parliament movement to disband, on the ground that it had been made redundant by the Maori Council structures. Despite Ngata's reservations about the Councils' potential effectiveness, he and Carroll had accepted the government's desire to dissolve the main unity movement. As a result of their hard-argued persuasion at a joint Kotahitanga–Maori Councils meeting at Waiomatatini in 1902, it was decided to disband Te Kotahitanga o Te Tiriti o Waitangi and merge it with Maori Council general conferences. Some groupings retained an independent 'Kotahitanga' identity, but the unity movement never again reconvened under the Paremata Maori umbrella. The main perceived threat to indivisible Crown sovereignty, an authentic major Maori political movement, had quickly been subsumed and then removed. In return, the Crown was obliged to hold some general conferences. While these did provide an occasional pan-tribal forum of some value, they did not represent any significant advance for autonomy.42
Maori Councils in operation
At first the political institutions set up under the 1900 legislation did reflect and give effect to some of the aspirations of iwi, hapu and whanau. They tended to comprise 'chiefs and notables not invariably the most amenable to the new influences resulting from the crusade of the Young Maori Party' and some of their activities did not therefore entirely please the Crown. The representatives, in fact, generally shared the long-standing Maori vision of retrieving meaningful communal control over the Maori way of life. While the Councils and their committees were designed to appropriate Maori collective energies for state-desired purposes, then, many communities did attempt to use them as a state-provided device to promote their aspirations for autonomy. Moreover, the various levels of the Maori Council system, along with other Maori organisations, shared several significant aims with the Crown. The model regulations, for page 54example, covered hygiene, a ban on liquor in pa/villages at hui, and the exclusion of animals in specified Maori spaces. These were adopted or adapted by the Councils, and many village committees enthusiastically accepted delegation of Maori Council powers of enforcement.
As Kotahitanga and Kingitanga made clear, the system fell far short of meeting their collective wish. But its implementation provides an example of the Maori propensity to experiment with whatever could be extracted from the Crown, however inadequate, rather than to boycott it. Such expedient use of the Council and komiti system, insofar as it has been noticed at all, has been generally seen as reflecting a genuine Crown-Maori 'compromise' over the quest for recognition of rangatiratanga. The state has been seen as providing a real chance for Maori to control their own destinies in at least some aspects of life. This is another example of the prevalence in modern scholarship of wishful thinking on Crown-Maori issues. There has been a tendency to extrapolate from the Liberal government's incipient pakeha 'welfare state' and find a genuine desire to give effect to Maori political aspirations. But once again the Crown is depicted as perennially falling short in the execution, because of failures of will, courage, personality or whatever, and there is regret at the lost chances of meaningful partnership.
This regret co-exists with modern scholarly appreciation that the Liberals' 1890s Maori land policies were essentially about completing the colonisation process over Maori and their communal lifestyle by parting them from the bulk of their remaining lands. Lack of interrogation of the state's ultimate intentions and goals, however, has allowed a government geared to depriving Maori of their land and ways of life to be depicted as having had the will and potential to meet at least some key Maori aspirations. While Maori have been contextualised as major losers in the Liberal 'social laboratory', there is still much comment along the lines that Seddon's government 'widened the fracture in the New Zealand dream' because it had 'lost an opportunity for the development of a truly bicultural society'. This, of course, implies that the state had an enlightened vision of a bicultural New Zealand in the first place. The history of Maori politico-cultural interaction with the Crown and settlers suggests clearly that the dream of a 'bicultural society', especially one which page 55included autonomy or partnership, lay mostly on the Maori side alone (albeit in different forms according to period, politics and place).
The supposed Crown quest for 'progressive measures' for Maori, paralleling progress for settlers, holds understandably strong allure. Even the 1984 Maori sovereignty manifesto declared that, after 1900, 'the destiny of the Maori people turned away from the determined uncompromising desire for the return of Maori sovereignty' because such aspirations had been partially met by the Maori Council institutions. It is clear that the komiti marae often ran their own affairs successfully, but this the villages had already been doing. Moreover, the government's response to accusations that the Maori Councils would delay assimilation was to stress that their powers would be slight; they were 'something to occupy [Maori] attention'.
The modern (subliminal) search to find evidence of state willingness to endorse Maori aspirations can be viewed as reflecting a residual adherence to the former national myth that 'New Zealand had the best race relations in the world'. As part of the sales pitch for the Maori Councils, indeed, Maori were 'reminded' that indigenous people were better treated in New Zealand than anywhere else on the colonised globe. Yet even Ngata, who as one of the architects of the Councils had attempted to get more out of the Crown, felt at the outset that they were too underpowered in resources and authority. While backing the scheme as the only way of obtaining any devolved power during this period, he was one of many who saw that by its very nature it 'doomed Maori self-government'.
This was indeed what had been intended. The history of early colonial New Zealand can be conceptualised as the interaction of two sets of autonomous zones. When this ended with Maori autonomy being physically crushed after the conflicts of the 1860s, it thereafter sought new forms of expression and the Crown found new ways of countering it. In the state's eyes, the process away from autonomy needed encouragement. In 1900 it saw appropriation of Maori desire for organisational autonomy as a means not just of diverting that desire but also of marshalling it in the ultimate quest for full assimilation.
Interpretations which see the 1900 experiment as having been initially page 56motivated by an urge to meet Maori aspirations, and then as having fallen short in the execution of policy, miss this key dynamic of history. In so doing they inadvertently denigrate the strength of indigenous resistance to what remained a policy goal of full assimilation. The interesting story is how the Crown, with all its coercive and appropriative power, and with the help of sites of collaboration, failed to crush aspirations for rangatiratanga. Maori actions to achieve autonomy have, in fact, persisted to this day, often sotto voce to the pakeha and therefore to historians who work from pakeha documentation and world-views. What the 1900 experiment reveals is both the pressure for autonomy which Maori placed on the Crown at the end of the nineteenth century, and the government's determination to ensure that, whatever it seemed to be doing, it always had the ultimate aim of full assimilation in mind. At the very least, it was anxious to neutralise dangerous opposition to its hegemony – as can similarly be seen in its diversion of trade union activity away from strikes into the more tranquil world of industrial conciliation and arbitration.43
However, as with unions, those who were to be controlled engaged with the state to maximise their own positions, and became increasingly strident as they came to appreciate just how far the system had been designed to counteract rather than endorse their aspirations. With the Maori Councils, this had initially been disguised not only beneath accommodatory rhetoric but also by the exigencies of the situation. Even the most pro-western of Maori involved in operating the new structures realised that their success would depend partly on mobilising elements of pre-existing Maori authority structures. Moreover, close association of rangatira/chiefs and kaumatua/elders with the process of establishing and running the system helped give it mana/prestige. On such issues, despite its ultimate assimilationist goal, the Crown once again proved to be flexibly realistic in the 'public good'. This in turn had benefits for Maori: the Councils which operated vigorously on behalf of their people were usually those in which tribal and chiefly power was prominent.
This did not mean that the Crown in any way faltered in its efforts to maximise its influence on the Maori Council system, especially through Ngata and his Young Maori Party colleagues. Not content with model page 57bylaws reflecting its own requirements, it set out to ensure co-ordination, inspection and (in effect) control of the movement from the centre. With royalty visiting Rotorua in 1901, the government arranged through the Council system for a large hui that doubled as a village operating under the hygiene and coercive rules of the model bylaws. The Councils and their committees were urged to take the methods demonstrated there back into their communities.
A small office was established in the Justice Department to run the Maori Council system. Ngata was appointed as 'Organising Inspector' in 1902 and Gilbert Mair, a pakeha former leader of kupapa forces, was appointed 'Superintendent' the following year. Through the head office mechanism the Crown sought tighter monitoring and control of the system. Ngata's first notice to Council chairs included a request for detailed reports on their districts. The Maori Council system's part-time police personnel were generally under the guidance of the New Zealand Police Force and were used at times by the regular police as auxiliaries (the only occasion on which they were allowed to coerce Europeans). Some Councils even came to be dominated by pakeha with official links.
When Seddon proclaimed at Putiki in late 1902 that the Maori Council experiment had proved that Maori could be trusted with local body powers, he was hoping that the system, while initially using the tribal milieu, would eventually speed up detribalisation and assimilation. If it performed satisfactorily, he opined, from time to time its powers might be extended. While most of its participants sought the empowering of communal lifestyles and tribal decision making, the Crown was increasingly instrumental in effecting a different agenda. This had been implicit from the beginning, of course. In the related area of health reform, for example, when Maui Pomare was appointed the first Native Health Officer in 1900 (in the new Department of Public Health), it was later reported, '[e]very step he took cut across customs and traditions'.
One of the reasons the Young Maori Party was so favoured was that some party policies sought to phase out customs and activities, such as certain tangihanga/funeral rituals and types of hui, which were deemed to be damaging. While Maoridom's strong desire to control its own destiny did not preclude an evolution in lifestyles, the state's programming page 58of its own imperatives into the structural and policy reforms led to reactions, even within the Maori Council system, which looked to the past. Other of the new institutions preferred a 'modernising' line. Some Councils took the Crown at its word in terms of self-management and unilaterally attempted to take greater powers than allowed by law – exercising controls over pakeha, for example, or over Maori from 'outside' areas. They found out the state's limitations in tolerance when such practices were proscribed.44
In view of such differing agendas, the Maori Council system was soon increasingly abandoned as a vehicle that could be used by Maori leaders to fulfil their aspirations for autonomy. Some remained with it because the mechanisms and associated Crown activities were providing at least some benefits for their people. These benefits, however, came at the price of continued tightening of the Crown's general surveillance and control of Maori. At the first general conference of Maori Councils in Rotorua in 1903, Pomare procured a motion for Maori villages to come under sanitation surveillance. When he followed this up the following year by establishing a network of 'Native Sanitary Inspectors' reporting to him in his official capacity, there was far from universal welcome for their activities – inspecting villages and monitoring komiti marae programmes, among other things. And yet they were carrying out reforms that undoubtedly led to considerable improvements in Maori health, so much so that they contributed to the demographic revival among Maori.
From the beginning, Pomare had seen that working through the Maori Councils, rather than through a separate Maori-oriented health workforce, was a way of marshalling collective endeavour both to effect health reforms and to undermine some of the bases of that collectivism. After his appointment as Assistant Native Health Officer, Te Rangihiroa reflected the views of his circle in urging a vigorous attack, through the community-based institutions, on customs detrimental to health. He explicitly linked the concept of communal life and organisation to anachronistic health practices. 'The communism of the past meant industry, training in arms, good physique, the keeping of the law, the sharing of the tribal burden, and the preservation of life … The communism of today means indolence, page 59sloth, decay of racial vigour, the crushing of individual effort, the spreading of introduced infectious disease, and the many evils that are petrifying the Maori and preventing his advance.'
One of the inspectors' targets was the institution of tohunga, often at the time translated pejoratively as 'witch-doctor'. In traditional Maori society tohunga combined religious, medical and other services and social control functions. The Crown had long seen the presence of tohunga as an implicit challenge to the European mores which underscored the state and its doings. Its allies in the Young Maori Party believed that colonisation's impact had destroyed genuine tohungaism, leaving charlatans to ply the trade, and they passed resolutions accordingly. But the profession retained much power in the majority world of Maori who wished to regain control over their own affairs and customs.
Thus the Crown needed the inspectorate, operating under the umbrella of the Maori Council structure, to build up a dossier that equated tohungaism with fake faith-healers playing on people's fears. This became ammunition for the eventual passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907, although the legislation was intended specifically for potential use against resistance leader Rua Kenana. While the Act was supported on public health grounds by some important Maori leaders, many others observed that, while it might have the good effect of suppressing fraudulent tohunga who had thriven in the liminality which followed tribal breakdown, it also constituted parliamentary interference in their customary law and tribal office-holders.
The measure was a high-profile example of actions and institutions associated with the 1900 structure which had the ambitious aim of helping state and private institutions to undermine the Maori communal political economy and way of life. Temporary drafting into service of the communalist structures on which such lifestyles had been based in the first place was as common a phenomenon in New Zealand as in the history of empire generally. When a Maori Council was established in 1902 in the remotest inhabited area of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands (Rekohu/Wharekauri), for example, it was linked to enlisting 'loyal' Taranaki tribal elements. Here the Crown had previously paid little attention to indigenous matters, such as the enslavement and then page 60marginalisation of the Moriori (a people conquered by Taranaki tribes prior to British colonisation), so long as an acceptable degree of order prevailed. But from time to time the actions of followers of the prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai had been seen as a threat to order in the islands, and this was again the case. The new structure was intended to help undermine their resistance to the Crown.
Whatever the Crown's motivations and actions, however, in many areas covered by active Maori Council committees the people did gain positive benefits from the new institutions. At the 6000-strong 'model' hui/village at Rotorua there was no sickness, disorder or drunkenness over a two-week period, and this prompted attempts at emulation. Collaborating or co-operating with the state, and even helping direct its 'native' policies and structures, was considered in many quarters as contributing to 'raising up' rather than to disappearing. In the Chathams, as elsewhere, children entered school, sanitary reforms began, drunkenness and other forms of disruption to village life fell off. In the Waikato, where Kingitanga hostility prevented the institution being established, living conditions remained reportedly most unhealthy.45
The Young Maori Party members appreciated that those who followed resistance leaders such as Te Whiti were engaged in the same general project as themselves, working to better the prospects of their people as a people within a settler-dominated society. But they believed that the opportunities offered by Maori Councils could lead to concrete improvement in the short term that would provide a basis for longer-term developments. Moreover, they argued, the Maori Councils system, together with recent legislation conferring legal equality, ensured that Maori had a greater degree of actual or potential control over their own destinies.
Concomitantly, however, under the new processes the state had increased its capacity for socio-racial surveillance of Maori, their aim being similar to that of the official runanga system of the 1860s upon which, via the komiti, they were conceptually modelled. The system's boosting of chiefly authority, therefore, was intended to be only temporary, part of the Crown's broader 'civilising mission'. The bylaws of the (eventually 25) Maori Councils reflected the Young Maori Party-page 61generated prototypes, whose aims were to assist the resuscitation of Maoridom through westernisation. They and the Council enforcement arms complemented the state's instruments of coercive and hegemonic control over the whole population.
But the Maori Councils and allied bodies did not act entirely as creatures of the Crown, and failed in several ways to effect its wishes. Many of their members believed that to 'suppress the tohunga was to strike at the roots of Maori value systems', and so declined to promulgate prohibitive bylaws. That is why the Tohunga Suppression Act was needed – to give regular police the power to move against millennial prophets, religio-medical healers and others who were deemed to be socially corrupting. As a prominent detective said, after the failure of the 1900 institutions to move over an issue of such significance for the state, '[g]aol seems to be the only way to break down the prestige of a recognized tohunga'.
Even if the only achievement of the Maori Council system had been to get the Maori Parliament disbanded, the strategy would have been deemed successful as a return on a very small Crown investment. The key state strategy, however, remained the hegemonic winning of Maori adherence to western ways of thinking and doing. But its results were jeopardised by the state's fear of devolving too much power to Maori authorities. The first general conference of Maori Councils asked for greater powers. They wanted to regulate Europeans living in Maori villages, deal with such offences as assaults and thefts, and have full delegated local government powers in wholly Maori areas.
Carroll sought to gain such extra authority, but during the passage of amending legislation in 1903 (following a 1901 amendment which provided some enforcement powers) he managed to obtain only minor accretions in powers and resources. The Councils were, therefore, denied the means to achieve the results that both they and the Crown wanted. Occasionally, state and/or Maori institutions would have to intervene when Councils or komiti marae exceeded their statutory powers – in disciplining pakeha, for example, or taking modernising zeal too far by 'oppressing' tribal members who had clung to the old ways.
The waning of the Maori Councils
Enthusiasm among Maoridom for the Maori Councils waned, and in the event only six general conferences were ever held. Even Ngata resigned from the system in 1904, in despair at the lack of state support, and after Mair left in 1907 the central administration languished. The Maori Council system, now run from the Native Department (which had been reinstated in 1906), was on a downward spiral. Denied meaningful rangatiratanga, the Councils declined; they therefore became of decreasing significance as agencies of government instrumentalism, and were even further starved of funding and authority.
While some continued to operate, others became defunct or continued only in name. In some Council districts, officially endorsed komiti marae flourished regardless of the health or otherwise of the regional bodies. In others, Maori reverted to customary structures 'untainted' by Crown authority. In particular, Maori would shun the system in areas where pakeha 'excesses' – liquor selling, stock trespass, wahi tapu violations and the like – which the Councils were generally powerless to stop, were rife.
Within a few years of their establishment the resource-starved Maori Councils were manifestly unable to address the concerns of either Maori or state. Attempted revivals by the minister in charge, Ngata, especially by convening a general conference in 1911, did not succeed. After that hui, indeed, no further general gatherings occurred. Nevertheless, activities under Council auspices continued in many areas. When smallpox broke out in the Auckland region in 1913, for example, Maori Councils and their komiti actively aided the police, health and other authorities in restricting travel, vaccinating and monitoring social distress.
All in all, it would be a mistake to echo some modern reassessments that depict the Councils as no more than a typical and successful state ploy to suppress Maori. It should be remembered that they were in fact initially an experiment forced on the Crown by exigencies, that prominent Maori had felt this could bring benefits to their own people in different ways as well as assisting the Crown's agendas, and that there were achievements which benefited Maori. Historians who have tended to page 63blame the Crown's lack of resourcing for the gradual demise of the Maori Councils have equally downplayed Maori agency, ignoring the fact that many Maori organisations not funded by the state had been (and were to be) highly successful. In essence the Councils languished because their primary purpose was not to effect but to contain, even to restrain, rangatiratanga. Maori who had sought to make use of them in pursuit of autonomy found the state's parameters too constraining to do so effectively. But meanwhile they had produced results that both Maori and the Crown had wanted, such as 'play[ing] an important role in the cultural adaptation of tribes to modernity in isolated rural areas'. In fact, because Maori in some areas saw some residual use for the Councils and their sub-institutions, and that suited the Crown too, the latter continued to see some leverage in keeping the system alive.
In the suspicious atmosphere of the home front during the First World War, however, the wielding of Maori Council powers by elected persons was seen as potentially dangerous. In 1916, therefore, by legislative amendment the Councils became Crown-appointed entities. After the war, following enormous Maori casualties in the great influenza pandemic, the government decided for several reasons to concentrate its official Maori energies on health matters. The new 'Health Officer for Natives', Te Rangihiroa/Buck, recommended that the most convenient way to do so was to locate the new programmes in the pre-existing community-based structures of the 1900 system, especially since health had tended to be the main work of the functioning Councils that remained. Such ideas had been mooted since the early years of the Maori Council system, and the politicians now accepted the argument.
In 1919, then, Maori Councils were required to work in close cooperation with the Department of Public Health. Reform went much further in 1920, when the Department of Public Health was restructured. Te Rangihiroa was appointed director of the specialist Division of Maori Hygiene, and in specified 'Maori Health Districts' the Councils were to be defined as Maori Health Councils. The Councils' main official function became raising the health and well-being of Maori, given that they were no longer seen as a dying race.
In terms of either fundamental state purposes or substantive Maori page 64autonomy, neither the Crown nor Maori gained a great deal out of the 1900 institutions and their successors. Many observers, including historians and other scholars who have interpreted both the Maori Councils and the superimposed Maori Health Councils as a genuinely motivated 'compromise' by the Crown, have pronounced the experiment a failure. But by creating the Maori Council system the Crown had considerably defused a late-nineteenth-century build-up of Maori protest. Moreover, the Councils and their committees had played some part in the relative quiescence of Maori as a political force in the first decades of the twentieth. On the Maori side, a degree of autonomy had been carved out considerably beyond that which the Crown had intended, and even traditional cultural and organisational arrangements had secured a degree of clandestine protection – including even the tohungaism so detested by officials and Maori modernisers. Undoubtedly, the Councils' work – especially in health – brought considerable benefits to Maori communities. Some revived sufficiently to continue on through the 1920s and beyond; when the system was superseded in 1945, six remained. In an official chronology of the Department of Maori Affairs, compiled six decades after their founding, the original Maori Councils and their health-oriented successors had disappeared from sight altogether. They deserve greater recognition.46