State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950
Labour and rangatiratanga
Labour and rangatiratanga
All of these debates had occurred in the context of both major political parties, Labour and the conservative National, stressing full assimilation as the ultimate goal, though the former wanted to remove 'negative' discrimination while the latter was prepared to continue it if necessary. In the run-up to the 1949 general election, as expected, Labour sought the Maori vote on the basis of its record on the search for (assimilationist) 'equality': tangata whenua had benefited from the party's implementation of 'social and economic uplift' through housing, education, social security and other policies. This campaign summed up the thrust of the government's policies, even though it had been forced to accommodate aspects of self-determination for the foreseeable future. Its social-democratic base had continued to lead it to the fundamental conclusion that the problems facing Maori would ideally be dealt with by equality before the law, and especially by raising the living conditions of all citizens in need – to do which special interventionary attention would be needed in the meantime.
Labour's identification with Ratanaism had not modified this strategy very much, for that movement's emphasis on the Treaty was tempered by both its formal rejection of tribalism and its determination to provide the morehu with satisfactory living conditions. Although Labour had paid some attention to Maori as a socio-political grouping, it continued to see them essentially as collective beneficiaries of 'general progress' (strengthened in this by the popularisation of the Ngataist concept of 'Maoritanga') and, even more so, as individuals who tended to be disadvantaged and were therefore particularly eligible for welfare assistance that allowed them 'to stand on [their] own feet'.
Insofar as Labour leaders had been prepared to go some way towards meeting non-Ratanaist aspirations to rangatiratanga, especially with the page 259MWEO and the welfare organisation, it was a cautious and constrained engagement. Fully aware of the propensity of tribally based movements to seek out as much independence from the Crown as possible, the government needed to place them under greater or lesser control. But as mid-century approached, the Labour Party leaders had strongly reasserted their central equalising message, which they felt to be even more relevant in view of the 'urban drift' among Maori. The tangata whenua would benefit best from non-ethnic social and economic 'levelling-up', from removing negatively discriminatory legislation, and ultimately from full assimilation to the ways and mores of the dominant culture.
The government, then, had reasserted the assimilationist policy that the Crown had never essentially departed from since the 1840s, despite the hopes and efforts of Maori (and the wishful thinking of many a modern historian). This analysis makes no judgment on the beliefs, efforts and motivations of politicians and officials (and members of the pakeha public) who pursued and supported an assimilationist agenda at this time – nor on those Maori who co-operated with the Crown's endeavours. Assimilation was in the New Zealand hegemony generally believed to be a correct and (in an international context) enlightened policy, rectifying the problems of poverty and disadvantage among Maori.
In the first half of the century, developments in such matters as health, housing and social security had undoubtedly led to considerable improvement in the Maori way of life, forming the base for the 'massive population explosion' of the second half. With the help of Ratanaism, the Labour regime had accelerated progress towards, even if falling far short of, various manifestations of 'equality' and 'levelling upwards'. But its policies and practices were situated in 'western' paradigms of progress to which a hegemonic, monocultural 'civilisation' was central. In terms of ultimate outcomes, this vision was incompatible with that of rangatiratanga. But Labour policies had been prepared to take into short-and medium-term account Maori collectivist striving for politico-cultural distinctiveness. From 13 December 1949 a new government held office, representing a party which considered even temporary accommodations with rangatiratanga to be of dubious merit.124