State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950
State-assisted land development
State-assisted land development
However much the consolidations might have benefited many, the schemes did not address the deep-rooted problem that the Native Land Court's succession procedures meant escalating title fragmentation among Maori landowners. Consolidation might be a solution to immediate problems relating to management, productivity and socio-political collective organisation, but ongoing fragmentation of title among inheritors of deceased estates was inevitable. The consolidation mechanism could not, moreover, address the major problem of lack of access by Maori to development capital. Lending institutions were generally resistant to Maori clientele at the best of times, and were particularly averse to providing loans to develop communally owned land, especially in a situation of actual or potential high ownership fragmentation. A landed resource that could provide a strong base to secure a stable socio-political future seemed as far away for many whose titles had been consolidated as it was for much of the rest of Maoridom.
Ngata and like-minded leaders, who believed that the key to Maori politico-cultural (as well as economic) advancement was development of the land, had put insistent pressure on the state to address the question page 115of Maori access to development capital and expertise. Early in the century, the Crown had conceded in principle that it should assist Maori to develop farming operations, and this had been legislated for. Subsequently, little had happened, and Maori leaders had come to pin their hopes on an 'independent' source of development finance. The Public Trustee had for long been the sole legal owner of Maori reserves, administering them on behalf of their 'beneficial owners'. Normally, they had been leased out to pakeha farmers 'in the public good', in some cases in perpetuity. Many Maori viewed such trusteeship over their 'own' lands as antithetical to their rangatiratanga. In 1920 the Crown went some way towards acknowledging their concerns by conceding that managing assets held on behalf of Maori required a specialist Native Trustee. This office was set up in 1921 and, although attached to the Native Department, it operated autonomously. Its activities generated monies that could be invested for Maori purposes.
With the support of Ngata and Coates, the first Native Trustee (Judge W E Rawson) began to lend Maori Land Board funds vested in him to Maori owners or their lessees. These loans were pegged to land development and farming operations. By law no trustee could assume responsibility for the generalised good of an entire social sector, needing to be 'ever-mindful of the requirements of the trust deed' and the interests of its specified beneficiaries. The ability to take up generalised development, or to work on behalf of tribally based or wider groupings, was therefore restricted. But the Native Trustee's early assigning of mortgages and other devices to assist specific Maori co-operative endeavours, including some that were highly successful, contributed to Maori efforts to retain collective, resource-based control of their own destinies. From 1922, moreover, the Maori Land Boards themselves were allowed to provide mortgages to Maori or their lessees, and from 1926 they could (with ministerial permission) make loans for development.
Meanwhile, Ngata and others had been attempting to persuade the Crown of the need for state assistance for large-scale Maori land development. One of their trump cards, however, the success of pioneering experiments on the East Coast, was seen by many as suspect. The problem was that it aimed (in the words of a sympathetic pakeha page 116observer) at 'reconciling Maori ideas of communal ownership with pakeha efficiency in working'. The Crown still preferred that most increase in production come from the sturdily individual pakeha or pakehaised farmer. But, as tribes outside the East Coast and Urewera began to take up consolidation and incorporation schemes, it increasingly appreciated that Maori-owned development might well be able to contribute to the 'national good'.76
In turn, Maori proponents of state-aided development, while seeking to underpin Maori identity through enhancing land-based rangatiratanga, increasingly directed their case to the Crown through the benefit to the economy as a whole for developing the land remaining to 'the race'. Additionally, they argued, the Dominion's treasury would benefit in other ways. Not only would Maori be better able to pay current and arrears rates, but also payments to the Crown outstanding because of low (or absent) yields from the land could now be made — for survey liens, for example.
Under great pressure from within both Maori (especially Ngataist) and pakeha (including local bodies affected by non-payment of rates) camps, the government made further moves towards greater state assistance to Maori development. In 1927 Ngata, already chair of the Native Affairs Committee of Parliament, was not only knighted but also appointed chairman of a Native Lands Consolidation Commission. This was charged with promoting to Maori and local bodies, especially those in Taitokerau and Waikato-King Country, the idea of state-led development in the context of consolidation. It would, among other things, mediate between Maori landowners and local bodies to procure rates compromises, preparing the way for extensive consolidation. At first, Maori in the target regions were often suspicious about accepting state-provided assistance, feeling that once the Crown had gained any leverage over their lands it would be exceedingly reluctant to concede unimpeded indigenous control, even after the completion of development. Ngata and his bureaucrats, however, provided assurances that state-imposed accountability would not be excessive, and significant numbers of communal landowners began to negotiate.
In December 1928 the government was defeated by Sir Joseph Ward's page 117United Party. Ngata then took on an even greater national leadership role with his appointment as Native Minister and a high Cabinet ranking. Although there was a template of success in cases where development finance had followed consolidation and incorporation, the lack of speed on Maori land development had been frustrating him. Endemic financing problems had been exacerbated by an uncertain economy. Ngata saw his mission as fast-tracking Maori land development by state aid on a national scale. He was to forge ahead despite the onset in 1929 of the Great Depression — and because of it, helped by pakeha fears that destitute Maori would become an enormous burden on the state.
The new minister shared the view of Maori generally that land development was a way of economically underpinning a communal mode of life based on tribal values and organisational principles. The Native Trustee's and other lending regimes had not encouraged such a perspective. Now, Ngata's 1929 Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Act offered extensive state assistance for Maori farming development in a way that held potential for sustaining the nexus between the quest for rangatiratanga and the viability of retaining land. Indeed, to many people Crown-aided land development schemes seemed the best way to get some measure of land-based self-determination. The standard method was for a committee of management, representing the collective owners of a potentially developable block, to apply for assistance on their behalf. Advisory committees to the Crown could provide further tribal input. With prospects of both democratic self-management of the land, and the establishment of viable farming, many Maori who had originally been suspicious of Ngata's ideas were quickly won round and sought to participate.
The minister's guidance and control in the land development processes were ubiquitous. Once land had been gazetted for a scheme, for example, it could not be leased or sold without Ngata's permission. Further extension of his powers came in 1930 and 1931. One key aspect of ministerial intervention was to encourage Maori tribal leaders to offer themselves for positions in the schemes, such as foremen and (increasingly) supervisors. The Maori land development schemes soon came to be viewed in sections of Maoridom as 'the modern replacement of the page 118authority and management of the chief in ancient Maori society', a 'stroke of genius', a way of preserving a communal ethos during a period of general state hostility. While the Crown saw state-assisted development as aiding a productivity-based public good, the process itself reflected collective identity and decision making.77