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

Wartime trust board settlements

Wartime trust board settlements

The protracted negotiations resulting from the findings of the Jones and Sim Commissions had been terminated by mutual consent with the onset of the Second World War. But tribes and Maori MPs had continued to remind the Crown that this could be only a pause in the struggle for compensation. From time to time the government, despite the demur of page 216some ministers and officials, publicly reaffirmed its intention to settle eventually. The case for reparations was strengthened by the Maori contribution to the war effort. But Maori knew from experience that it was not easy extracting compensation from the Crown. Ngata was blunt in reminding Mason that, while 'the British empire' was pleased enough to accept the aid of colonised indigenes, they were still awaiting 'justice' – even in New Zealand.

Justice included some form of self-determination. Ngata was just one of many Maori leaders who warned the Crown that its propensity to appropriate successful Maori endeavours would be, in the long run, self-defeating. Any Crown takeover of Maori organisational energies would lead not to abandonment of the quest for rangatiratanga, but to its taking different forms. He recalled that, at the local level, the development schemes had often fallen into the hands of pakeha management, leaving Maori with only seasonal and labouring work on and near their tribal homelands, or migration to the urban areas, as the means of survival. His 'high spirited people', he argued, were 'disappointed in their vision of enlarged opportunities' from their land bases. Despite all the gains of the land settlement schemes, Maori had not been able to establish a series of resource bases from which they could greatly enhance the chances of realising their politico-cultural aspirations. They would strategise accordingly.

At the national level, as one response to their people's enthusiastic support of the war effort, Maori leaders had argued for at least a degree of actual self-determination in the future – rather than versions that had been emasculated by the Crown. They urged that tribal reparations form part of this, with adequate resources (land or otherwise) and powers given to the tribes which had been the most violated by past Crown actions. By 1943 the major tribes involved in the 1930s negotiations, empowered by favourable reaction to the Maori contribution to the war, were discussing reparations in the context of post-war reconstruction and the reconstitution of tribal fortunes. Although the Crown had consistently refused to assess claims in Treaty of Waitangi terms, some Maori sought to peg issues of extent and kind of compensation specifically to Article Two's promise of rangatiratanga. While the government might page 217continue to dismiss such arguments, it could not ignore an increasing demand that it address the historical grievances as part of its planning for the post-war world.

With a general election looming, in June 1943 Mason and Fraser held discussions with Tirikatene and Mawhete. As a result, Mason was asked to investigate how much the tribal claims might cost – the Crown assumed that compensation would be in money. He reported back his officials' calculations in August: a total of £81,550 immediately and £17,000 annually (partly in perpetuity and the rest for specified periods). There was a possibility that some 'surplus land claims' compensation would also be needed. In view of these relatively modest sums, in the 1943 general election Labour pledged an 'early and complete settlement' of Maori claims against the Crown. At the polls the last of the non-Ratana Maori seats fell to the Labour–Ratana alliance. That it was the ubiquitous, powerful and highly respected Ngata who was ejected from Parliament was a telling indication that the Maori people preferred Labour, whatever its faults, to the conservative alternative. This was no doubt due generally to the collectivist and welfarist philosophy which had enabled Ratanaism to forge an alliance with it, but also perhaps partly to Labour's sanctioning of the MWEO's activities.

There was a lesson for Labour, however, in the ousting of an MP of such great mana, after nearly four decades of service to his people: nothing should be taken for granted in Maoridom. Even Ngata's increasing propensity to make statements on the need for the state to recognise rangatiratanga had been insufficient to save him. The Maori vote was important to the governing party, and the 1943 culmination of the 'Four Quarters' strategy reinforced appreciation among Labour politicians and their advisers that Maori demands for recompense for the Crown's 'past sins' needed to be addressed. As soon as Tirikatene had entered Cabinet, he urged that it was time for a 'final settlement' of Maori historical grievances, beginning with the longest-running major claim, that of his own Ngai Tahu. He opened discussions with Mason at once, and he and his staff worked hard to persuade ministers and other officials of the need to settle, even if only out of expediency. In 1944 Mason reopened formal negotiations.

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At that year's Maori summit conference the delegates endorsed the Maori MPs' demand for rapid action over historical claims. Proposals for doing so followed clear official signals that, in the Crown's view, the trust board system was the only viable way of controlling settlement resources. Delegates agreed that boards, if properly established, could be sufficient to provide 'an avenue for the self-expression of, and the assumption of responsibility by, the Maori Race'. It was this relative moderation, along with continuing publicity for the Maori contribution to the war effort, that helped persuade the government to respond favourably on the issue of settlements. Moreover, it was willing to settle even before the war ended, so long as difficulties over which collectivities it should deal with, and which leaders had the mandate to represent them, were resolved. In light of this, many kaumatua and rangatira felt it best to forge ahead, even if offers were small, in order to take advantage of what might be only a temporary government willingness to settle.

Others demurred. Many Maori still envisaged compensation as helping to re-establish a land-based rangatiratanga. Officials had consistently advised the government that there was insufficient available Crown land for a land component to be included in the compensation packages, an argument incorporated into Mason's costing exercise. Iwi spokespeople were angrily noting that the government was readily enough able to contemplate land for rehabilitation of (mostly) pakeha returned soldiers. Even Mason was embarrassed by such a blatant double standard. By now, however, the government had finally agreed on its intentions for reparations. It had abandoned as impractical any thought of a total settlement sum into which all claims would be fitted. It had opted for precedent: tribal trust board governance, the boards receiving annual money payments (or their capitalised equivalents).

While many Maori remained unhappy about both the control and financial aspects of such packages – especially those in raupatu tribes, whose fundamental demand remained the return of ancestral land – some noted that the situation could have been far worse. Fierce disputes within various institutions of state had centred on attempts to lower the sums previously discussed or proffered. The Treasury, for example, had argued that government social welfare policies were partial recompense for the page 219Crown's past inflictions on Maori, and so amounts previously on the table should be lowered. The ministers had rejected such advice in favour of more realistic appraisals of likely Maori reaction, and confirmed that they would be generally guided by the Sim and, to a lesser degree, Jones Commission recommendations.

In the negotiations with tribal leaders, however, the Crown reiterated its long-standing insistence that compensation monies were essentially to be used, as well as for administration, to pursue such matters as health, education, housing and welfare. Mason, indeed, put forward a paler version of the Treasury argument. A sizeable portion of compensation monies, he stated, needed to be used as a substitute for 'other Government expenditure, possibly from the Social Security Fund'. The Crown, then, to use later Treaty parlance, was attempting to offset compensation for violations of its Article Two/rangatiratanga obligations against its Article Three/equality responsibilities to Maori. Many tribal leaders were emphatic, however, that the boards should be able to do with reparation monies whatever their people wished, subject to democratic scrutiny by their constituents. They envisaged, for example, rebuilding marae complexes as foundations for politico-cultural revitalisation.

Bearing in mind the pre-war experience of long years of negotiation, some prominent Maori leaders argued that the Crown's conditions on use of monetary compensation should be accepted. Some restrictions were both inevitable and a small price to pay if they guaranteed settlement, and in any case draconian conditions could later be alleviated through discussion or negotiation. They stressed that, however welcome a land base would be, the tribal collectivities would survive without one – and be able to use some of the reparations income to restore turangawaewae. Some even declared that there could be gains for rangatiratanga in developing the government's proposals: if welfare resources were provided, control of their distribution could be seen as reflecting at least a degree of autonomous tribal power. The point was that tribally based organisations, even if established and run under the auspices of the state, would be firmly in charge of internal resource allocation. Those who advocated quick settlements, however inadequate these might be, turned out to constitute the great majority.

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One potential impediment to the settlements reflected the level at which the Crown dealt with Maori. Some hapu and sub-hapu leaders believed that the government's willingness to negotiate only with broadly based tribal entities was a violation of indigenous rights, given that most Maori collective decisions were generally at hapu or whanau level. Iwi and tribal federation leaders, however, argued that, given the Crown's history of stalling on even broadly based settlements over a long period, chances of success lay only with the tribal-wide or federal arrangements currently on tentative offer. There were other arguments as well, quite apart from practical ones relating to timeframe and other difficulties if the Crown had to deal with the large numbers of hapu. In particular, it was noted that, given the size of past offers to iwi, any realistic sub-iwi agreements could scarcely provide meaningful resources to the communities involved. Such arguments generally prevailed among the people of the tribal groupings at the forefront of the claims, as they had with those involved in the 'lakes settlements' of the 1920s, so long as – within the realms of possibility – sub-iwi groupings gained representation on the trust boards.

The first major grouping to negotiate a settlement with the government in 1944 was the iwi confederation which had already obtained an interim settlement along the lines desired by the Crown. Representatives of the Taranaki tribes discussed a Crown offer to make permanent the temporary arrangement which reflected the Sim Commission's findings. They were fully aware that these findings were from time to time heavily contested within officialdom and by politicians, and that there was a danger of this occurring once again – especially if the wartime 'spirit of co-operation' dissipated. They therefore decided to abandon their quest for compensation in land, and accept the existing £5000 a year in settlement of their grievances. They saw the payment as an annual reminder to the Crown of 'the sin' of the land confiscations, a lesson whose repetition in perpetuity would help preclude any replay of the Crown's past adversarial actions. Even Ernest Corbett, for the conservative opposition, depicted the settlement as 'a permanent recognition of the wrong' done by the Crown.

The Taranaki Maori Claims Settlement Act of December 1944 page 221depicted the settlement as 'final'. The payments were not enough to enable major rebuilding of tribal resource bases. But the main concern of iwi members was Crown endorsement of their mana, tribal dignity and rangatiratanga. They had assessed that perpetual payments and the state's implicit acknowledgement of its breaches of tribal rights embodied these. The Crown's guilt over past wrong-doing was symbolically reinforced by an additional payment of £300 for the destruction that had resulted from the sacking of Parihaka in 1881. Tribal leaders noted that, although limitations on ways of spending the annuities remained in place, as a result of discussions considerable flexibility was possible. Mason stated when the Act was being passed that the monies could be distributed 'as visioned' by the Taranaki tribes.

Ngai Tahu had pioneered the new round of settlement talks, but its negotiations had proved problematic because of the size of the Jones Commission's lump-sum recommendation. Treasury and other officials argued that, in view (among other things) of the constrained wartime financial situation, any possible total sum for Ngai Tahu could be nowhere near the £354,000 recommended by Jones. The last figure offered had been £100,000 in 1935. As the Taranaki negotiations progressed, a relativity argument entered.

Ngai Tahu's tribulations were viewed as being of lesser magnitude than Taranaki's, since it had not experienced armed invasion, death and post-conquest confiscation at the hands of the coercive forces of the Crown. A lump sum had seemed to some iwi leaders to be an attractive proposition in principle, as it would provide development capital. However, to secure a settlement approaching Jones Commission magnitude, Tirikatene and the other tribal leaders had indicated that they were prepared to accept payment over time. The Crown accepted in principle, preferring a cut-off date to perpetual payments – so long as officials' calculations ensured that the total figure represented lesser compensation than that given Taranaki. A compromise sum of £300,000, to be paid out over 30 years, was agreed upon, pending later confirmation by the tribal communities. This was legislated into effect on the same day as the Taranaki settlement, and the Native Trustee held the monies pending creation of a reconstituted Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board in page 2221946. The board's powers reflected the outcome of more negotiations, including acquiring and managing land for the benefit of its members and expenditure on projects to enhance tribal or community life.

Later, Taranaki and Ngai Tahu argued that their settlements were, in view of the magnitude of the Crown's acts and omissions, greatly inadequate – and the Crown eventually agreed. But by 1944 they had fought for a long time and the outcome of the wartime negotiations seemed the best they could get in the foreseeable future. They were certainly much better than some powerful elements within the state wanted. Ex-minister Langstone grumbled, in the context of the Ngaitahu Claim Settlement Act, that many Maori grievances were imaginary: New Zealand was 'the only country that understands how to treat its Native people'. And, in terms of the values of the times, the monies could be quite significant for the tribes and their people.

Moreover, the settlements embodied the Crown's acknowledgement that a tribal collective was more than just the remnant of an historical entity affected by the violations of the past. It was also the institution with which the Crown needed to develop a relationship in the future. Trust boards were recognised by law as bodies corporate representing sizeable descent-based populations. For this reason, among others, Maori saw the arrangements as Crown recognition of tribal rangatiratanga. Most tribespeople accepted (or at least did not oppose) the settlements. Makere Love, Tirikatene's private secretary, said in 1946 of the Ngai Tahu arrangement that 'no Maori land claim settlement has been so thoroughly well discussed' by its potential beneficiaries – although acceptance was no doubt influenced by the lack of an alternative offer on the negotiating table.114