State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950
Chapter Nine — Rangatiratanga Initiatives and Crown Containment Towards Mid-Century
Rangatiratanga Initiatives and Crown Containment Towards Mid-Century
Assimilation and rangatiratanga
From the late 1930s, the indigenous population of New Zealand began to increase very rapidly, largely because of 'a sharp decrease in Maori mortality'. The trend reflected a number of the developments discussed in this book, culminating in the Labour government's aims to include Maori in all the benefits of the welfare state. Assimilationist policies not only gelled with these Labour aspirations to raise the living standards of all disadvantaged New Zealanders, but also appeared to an increasing number of policy makers to suit the post-war indigenous situation particularly well and should therefore be accelerated. Not only were growing numbers of Maori physically separating themselves from their homelands, but other trends were relevant too – such as aspects of the ongoing reorganisation of farming of Maori-owned lands. Those which fitted official ideology were encouraged by the state, sometimes in turn feeding into the accelerated assimilation thesis. With regard to those Maori staying in the tribal regions, for example, the Department of Maori Affairs noted in 1949 that population concentration through consolidation was 'being widely promoted' because it 'had the advantage of being the most comprehensive method of approximating the goal of individual, or at least compact family titles'. This would bring Maori closer to the European model of land ownership and lifestyle modes.
In view of the multi-faceted strengthening of assimilationist pressures, Maori leaders and others promoting rangatiratanga had, at times, to adopt temporary fall-back positions as the major focus of their effort – such as page 248saving selected aspects of Maori culture from obliteration. But they never ceased to stress that their grand goal remained Maori self-determination. Thus Tirikatene, in his capacity as the highest official representative of his people, had cause to remind the Prime Minister that 'the fusion of the Maori people into the community of New Zealand as an integral part of it does not mean that the movement is to turn the Maori into a pakeha'.
For the state, in contrast, assimilation not only remained the ultimate item on the strategic agenda for Maori, but it also now seemed more achievable. An increasing number of bureaucrats and politicians believed that demographic, urbanising, farming and other trends within Maoridom held out hope that tangible progress could be made on this elusive goal. The Maori Welfare Organisation, a temporary measure in any case, might be able to assist assimilatory progress through its assigned work on socio-economic levelling and equalising.
Conversely, one question being asked in many Maori circles in the later 1940s was how far the welfare organisation could be used to resist assimilationist imperatives and pressures – or, better still, to assist autonomist impulses and strategies. Even if it might be an exaggeration to assess that the new committees were, from a Maori point of view, 'only a shell of the effective organisations' of the MWEO, the task faced by those attempting to harness them to the cause of rangatiratanga was huge.
Self-determinationists often did not think the effort worthwhile. In some quarters, for example, Maori leaders or rank and file continued to work through organisations which had been operating in wartime, officially or unofficially, and which remained in place informally. In some places these constituted effective rivals to welfare organisation committees, while in others they complemented them – or filled a space where official committees had not gone (sometimes because the unofficial institutions were there first). Because of the stigma within Maoridom that resulted from getting too close to the government, some of the welfare organisation committees resisted direction from head office, risking loss of access to resourcing.
Some of the fiercely independent branches of the Maori Women's Health League also functioned as local expressions of rangatiratanga, page 249however limited their formal aims might be. Yet such was the level of post-war Maori suspicion of a government which had dashed so many of their hopes that, because league groups needed to have some dealings with the authorities and because Maori Affairs tried to woo them, they too were sometimes viewed as creatures of 'pakeha Wellington'. All the same, they formed one section of a remarkable new development, the beginnings of a pan-tribal movement among Maori women.
Given that the tribal committees were mostly male-dominated, Maori women often tended to group together to focus on things of most interest to their own lives – issues such as family, health and housing. They were particularly inclined to organise as a result of their 'liberating' experiences during the war, when – especially when the men were away – they were often crucial for the success of the MWEO. In some areas Maori komiti wahine/women's committees had been created to assist the official war effort, and some of them continued on after the war.
Royal and other officials came to see the usefulness of women's groupings able to assist the tribal committees in 'aspects of welfare which are the prerogative of women', and encouraged existing ones to flourish and new ones to form. Maori Affairs and government alike, however, noted that such groups had thriven despite being outside the tribal executive and tribal committee structures – and perhaps sometimes because of it. The results were so positive that from 1949 the welfare officers were formally charged with assisting activist Maori women to establish a network of women's welfare committees.
The committees' main role was officially stated as bringing 'professional guidance' to Maori women in both home and marae settings. Royal had intended that they would eventually merge with the Maori Women's Health League, but the latter was cautious, fearing that this would add to perceptions that its autonomy was under threat. Moreover, the Crown's assimilationist agenda continued to worry some of the league branches: while they wished to acquire western expertise, they also aimed to incorporate tikanga Maori. Conversely, elements in the department feared that any such merger would lead to domination by the branches.
Despite their increasing official links, the women's welfare committees were often able, in effect, to operate autonomously. They could page 250concentrate on their own agendas rather than on those of the Crown's agents to a degree that the more entrenched and elected official tribal committee members could not. They were assisted in this capacity by the broad-ranging nature of their 'welfare' brief, which allowed them to work under the auspices of the 1945 Act without too much tension, and which fostered a sense of nationwide unity – their goals were uncontestable. A feeling soon grew, in fact, that the committees would be more effective if they acquired a united voice. Some began to talk of a national body that could become a powerful tool for distilling the experiences of its flax-root members and creating policies and platforms that could influence the government's words and deeds.
Some officials and politicians could see that such a body could also be a useful conduit for information flow, upwards and downwards, so long as there were some minimal safeguards. A national Maori women's organisation was seen as highly unlikely to challenge the indivisible authority of the state, a general reflection of the prevailing mores about the place of women in society, although there were others factors too. Several leading members of the welfare committee movement, for example, were educated, urban-based and interested in the practical realities of the migration experience. Their perspectives were far different from those of the traditionalist men who dominated many of the tribal committees and tribal executives, and the state could see their significance for assisting in the social adjustment to city life.
While the united voice of the women's welfare committees might sometimes put uncomfortable pressure on the government, then, it could also assist official aims of various types, including assimilationist ones. The league dropped out of preparatory discussions in reaction to the high profile of Maori Affairs in the developments, but welfare officers continued to encourage the women's committees to consider forming a nationwide organisation with a central secretariat. Over time, informal discussions led to official consultation, and a draft constitution was developed and then adopted at a conference in Rotorua in 1950. Female welfare officers, in particular, put a great deal of energy into taking this initiative further, helping establish district councils on a regional basis preparatory to setting up a national body.page 251
By March 1951 there were 160 welfare committees, with 14 district councils co-ordinating their activities, and membership was around 2500. That September a general conference of the welfare committees was held in Wellington, with delegates from what had now grown to 187 branches which reported to district organisations, and 27 independent 'isolated branches'. There had been a last effort to persuade the Maori Women's Health League to attend, but it remained sceptical that it could retain its decentralised structure and independence in the face of Maori Affairs' overview. A draft constitution was presented and endorsed, and the Maori Women's Welfare League, a powerful force for rangatiratanga, was founded.
Inside the Maori Welfare Organisation, rangatiratanga had made considerably lesser progress. In 1946 a book of instruction for American soldiers about New Zealand was republished. It pointed out that Maori communal endeavours and organisations 'live on persistently, to the puzzlement of Europeans, who are unaccustomed to seeing their scale of values cheerfully ignored'. The activities of some committees fitted this syndrome. While used to resistance to assimilation, the government would sometimes intervene when such tribal committees began to utilise the welfare organisation system to promote their own, autonomist perspectives – those trying, in effect, to reappropriate that which the Crown had bequeathed them from 'their' wartime organisation. Denial of any support was one method, and while some independently inclined committees did thrive despite this and other forms of state remonstrance, others 'found themselves floundering'.122
Some committees which asserted independence were tolerated because they provided the government with services it needed. These included the valuable (and cheap) provision of adjunct services for enforcement of 'order and regularity' in Maori localities and districts. As well as the Maori Council policing system, other Maori coercive forces had operated in the twentieth century, some of them endorsed by the state. Ratanaism's early development had itself been nourished with the help of its own page 252policemen, or katipa, once headed by an Irish 'Chief of Police'. This was one of many similar efforts by Maori groups to exercise control over activities of importance to them. These generally assisted, albeit indirectly, Crown as well as Maori authority. To help it face the challenges of the Second World War period, the government had acquiesced in many informal social control mechanisms at village or marae level – as indeed it had often done before. With the war nearing an end, many Maori leaders wanted the right to continue such activies in peacetime. The government appreciated that Maori self-policing could assist to maintain order during the reconstruction period and beyond.
In supporting the inclusion of coercive apparatus and authority in drafts of the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act, the government was aware that, in a legal sense, it was going beyond the powers given to the MWEO, and that this might be a fraught and ambiguous exercise. But the legislation sought to regularise and exercise control over current self-policing arrangements, placing tight formal limits on tribal coercive capacity. The jurisdiction of the 'Maori police', and of those they reported to in the welfare organisation system, was constrained. To emphasise this, although they were referred to bluntly within the department as a 'police force', the personnel involved were to be given the euphemistic title of 'Maori Wardens' (a term used in a Rotorua experiment, implemented in 1937, with which Te Arawa's trust board was associated). While wardens were to be nominated and superintended by tribal executives and work with the tribal committees, they were to be appointed by the minister (with advice from the officials) and he would be in overall control of their activities. Whatever the formal hands-off position of the state once wardens were appointed, it was always implicit, in their terms of reference, that they were to pay attention to the control and enforcement priorities of the Crown.
Just as various Maori movements had retained or developed their own order institutions and functions for their own purposes, however, many welfare organisation committees intended to – and in the event frequently did – use the position of warden to pursue community aims. This was generally tolerable for the state, because in their primary enforcement orientation the committees' views tended to coincide with page 253those of the Crown. Both regarded liquor control, in particular, as a priority, regarding the amount of Maori consumption as detrimental to both the national good and Maori communities. The problem was exacerbated in Crown eyes by Maori moving to live in close proximity with pakeha in the towns and cities – race relations, work productivity and 'public order' were all considered to be under strain. Elders and other Maori leaders were just as concerned; they had seen, for example, that new drinking habits acquired by some who had gone away during the war added to domestic and community problems after their return home. By mutual consent, therefore, from the beginning it was intended that a central focus for the wardens would be regulating alcohol consumption.
The idea of wardens, in fact, was generally received more enthusiastically in Maori communities than within the state. Some elements of the state system opposed it from the beginning, on philosophical grounds related to 'societal equality'; others had second thoughts after the 1945 legislation was passed. The New Zealand Police, who had vetting functions for the 'Maori police', had previously indicated concerns over the spread of 'unprofessional' policing by blocking any expansion of the Rotorua experiment. Since well before the end of the previous century, Maori had essentially been policed, at least on an official level, by pakeha constables, and the final remnants of the part-time 'Native Constable' position within the force were dispensed with in 1945.
Police wariness at reintroducing 'Maori policing Maori' was widely shared among officials on a number of grounds. Among them was a feeling, that Maori police would, for tribal reasons, be loath to enforce certain laws against members of their own community – laws which, for example, negated customary fishing or birding practices. Anecdotal examples of such reluctance by Maori constables in the past were often cited. In effect, Maori police were considered unreliable when rangatiratanga came into conflict with the law. As a result, the welfare organisation's policing regime stalled at its very outset: when the Maori authorities put forward nominations for wardens' positions, confirmation of appointment was deferred.
But pressure was applied by other state elements as well as the tribal page 254authorities, especially in the context of post-war review and reform of the liquor legislation. Eventually, waverers were persuaded by the argument that, with appointments to be 'probationary', the experiment could easily be abandoned if it proved unsatisfactory. The first nominations were formally approved in 1949, and the complement of wardens numbered well over 100 before the year was out. Their services came quickly to be appreciated by Crown and Maori authorities alike, and their numbers soon rose considerably. Their operating principle has been described as 'aroha ki te tangata' (love for the people): wardens' services were unpaid and, given the paucity of resources of the welfare organisation, they were seldom reimbursed for even out-of-pocket expenses. The motivations of the individuals who took on the task were generally similar to those of the leaders of the Maori search for indigenous control of indigenous matters. They were described by a Maori parliamentarian as people with 'a social conscience [making] a positive contribution to the life of the people', and most Maori seemingly viewed them that way. They represented one model of how an institution could operate in a way that satisfied many requirements of both rangatiratanga and the state.
The liquor question
Wardens became particularly important in tackling difficulties arising out of Maori migration to towns and cities in the quarter-century after the war, especially after this gained huge magnitude from about 1950. Maori leaders were as worried as the state and 'public opinion' (if not more so) by 'anti-social' behaviour by their people in population centres. Far from their traditional socio-tribal support structures, many (especially young) Maori used heavy alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism, which often led to problems with 'the law'. Migrated Maori who rose to provide leadership of their people in the new environment, often in conjunction with city-based welfare officers as well as with leaders 'back home', began to use the Maori warden system to complement their informal efforts to 'recreate community' in the urban areas and, increasingly, their building of welfare organisation institutions there.
But there were endemic problems. The major role for policing in page 255New Zealand was designed to be preventive, based on a highly visible or accessible patrolbased presence. Policing personnel were distinguished from other citizens in that they possessed at all times and in all circumstances a legally sanctioned power to coerce. The informal, collective social control structures of the villages often minimised any necessity for wardens to employ force. But their intervention in disorderly urban incidents was more likely to be overtly coercive, creating tension. Over and above this, there was some resentment among Maori at what was seen as 'double-policing' of their people.
More broadly, an institutional focus on regulating Maori alcohol consumption had been foreshadowed as a conceptual problem at planning stage. There was a general wartime and post-war mood, among 'progressive' thinkers of both major ethnicities, to eradicate all 'race discrimination'. As the war had progressed, there was increasing demand for legal 'equality' in liquor consumption to be enshrined in legislation, and this campaign escalated at the beginning of post-war reconstruction. Many rank and file Maori supported it, their views spearheaded by returned servicemen whose eyes had recently been opened to new possibilities of social and lifestyle equality. Urban migrants, too, had experienced a 'colour bar' as a result of gaining a more visible profile in what had been largely white towns and cities. Many Maori and pakeha believed that legal discrimination in something as important to New Zealand popular culture as drinking helped to legitimise racist behaviour.
Some Maori, moreover, saw equal access to and control of liquor, freed of special stigma for tangata whenua, as an achievable next step in the struggle to gain recognition of mana from the Crown – and therefore a further base from which to continue the struggle for rangatiratanga. An MWEO-organised conference in Rotorua in 1945 had noted that discriminatory liquor legislation applied exclusively to Maori (not even to other indigenous people who had migrated to New Zealand). The delegates declared that, given the equality of sacrifice in the war effort, removal of discrimination was more necessary than ever for restoring the 'mana of the race'.
In some rural areas especially, however, such a move was regarded by tribal leaders as potentially impeding the quest for rangatiratanga. To page 256them, the struggle for self-determination had been weakened by excessive use of alcohol among their people, who needed 'protection' against its scourge. Kingite leaders such as Koroki (who took a huge delegation to Parliament on the issue) and Te Puea held such views, as did the King Country's tribal executive, the East Coast prohibitionist movement and groups elsewhere in the country. Some leaders, then, had sought retention or strengthening of discriminatory practices as one way of warding off modernising influences that disturbed the tenor of tribal life.
Such a strategy not only tended to discount or ignore some pertinent cultural and migratory factors, but could lead to complications. The right to 'otherness' that Maori leaders were claiming could, for example, gain some strange bedfellows when it included discriminatory liquor regulation – including ethnocentric pakeha conservatives (and even white racists). A witness at the 1946 Royal Commission on Licensing answered his own question as to whether Maori should be 'treated differently to the Pakeha in [alcohol] matters': they should be, he argued, because 'the Maori is different. The Maori has no history, traditions, or ingrained customs, or generally accepted rules of conduct, regarding many commonplaces of European ways of life and habits'.
In short, there were two broad methods of approaching rangatiratanga in relation to the liquor question: in favour of or opposing discrimination in law and policing. In the event, it was almost inevitable that legal 'equalising' should win out in the immediate post-war climate of 'equality'. The Labour Party's philosophical roots emphasised all citizens being of equal status: 'the Maori' was (in Walter Nash's words) 'good enough, strong enough, and able enough to stand on his own feet, and he will not reach the heights we would like to see him reach' through continuing to inhabit a 'protected' position. Increasing numbers of pakeha, in fact, had been coming to the same conclusion. A policeman summed up such perspectives by arguing before the royal commission that 'Maoris should be treated the same as any other citizens' and that anything else was both 'a slur on the Maori at this stage of his history' and a bar to assisting Maori to 'stand on his own feet'.
The commissioners agreed, and after much debate the government page 257too decided in favour of equalisation. Even the long-established prohibition in the King Country would soon disappear, following the commission's recommendation to make the area subject to the same rules as the rest of the country: a regional referendum failed to get the required 60 per cent vote for continuing the no-licence regime. Whatever its origin and evolution, the 'sacred pact' between the Crown and tribal leaders, who had equated it with 'our mana and our rangatiratanga', was overturned.
But the main result of the commission was the 1948 Liquor Licensing Act. Under it, Maori consumers of alcohol were put on an equal legal footing with their pakeha counterparts. Maori women were now allowed to drink in public bars, Maori men were entitled to equal access to liquor away from licensed premises, and several other racially based discriminations regarding consumption were repealed. But the interventionary power of the wardens in effect continued a separate surveillance and enforcement regime for Maori, given that they were especially charged with controlling alcohol intake and suppressing liquor-related disorder. Wardens could, for example, order Maori to leave licensed premises or prevent publicans serving liquor to them. From time to time they received extra powers from the government to pursue its desired goals on such issues. In 1951, for instance, wardens gained greater control over drinking on marae, particularly during hui, a development welcomed by some in rangatiratanga terms and opposed by others promoting the same cause in different ways.
The main liquor-related order problem, however, was increasingly seen to be in the towns and cities. Here it took time for warden policing to make an impact. Meanwhile, greater Maori visibility in urban areas had not only reminded pakeha that full assimilation had not arrived, but led many to depict Maori 'differentness' in derogatory terms – especially because of alcohol-related disorder. It was widely believed that Maori both drank excessively and 'could not hold their liquor' and so special coercive attention was required beyond that of the warden system. In the event, a 'progressive' reaction against such ethnocentric perspectives meant that demands for much greater Crown controls on Maori than on pakeha were not fulfilled. But, along the way, various Maori requests to page 258operate their own control measures independently of the state were also rejected. Deployment of wardens, then, remained as close as Maori leaders and communities were to get in terms of special, officially sanctioned regulatory powers over their own people.123
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
New developments at mid-century
After the war the indigenous population was well on its way to tripling since its late-nineteenth-century nadir, and it would be recorded in 1951 as 115,676 (out of a total population of 1,938,032). By then, increases in and transfers of the Maori population were adding to the enormous strains on tribal organisation that had followed colonisation. In 1936, 83 per cent of Maori lived in rural communities, and at the time of the population adjustments at the end of the war this proportion was calculated to be still at a relatively high three-quarters. But the wartime 'urban drift' continued during peacetime, and after 1950 it became a deluge; from around 1960 Maori 'became a predominantly urban people', involving a change in lifestyle of 'staggering' proportions.
As urban migration had gathered momentum, tribal leaders had increasingly seen that it would be a struggle to retain strong traditional structures. Some felt that the survival of Maoritanga itself was already under threat. Not only had sizeable numbers of their people left for the large towns and cities, but also these had few tribally based (or indeed Maori-based) support mechanisms in their day-to-day lives. Displaced individuals and families mostly had to interact with, and often came largely to conform to, cultural norms that were largely alien to their rural and tribal upbringing. One later observer believed that 'the abrupt resumption' of close interracial contact from the 1940s, heralding a 'post-withdrawal stage', led to 'a more traumatic, conflictful, and anxiety producing adjustment process than in situations where the contact had been gradual and continuous over a long period of time'.125
Although it was slow to appreciate the nature of the problems that resulted from urbanisation, the state would increasingly come to encourage internal migration; among other things, this would be taken as an opportunity to return accelerated assimilation to its strategic agenda as a seemingly achievable item. In such circumstances, Maori Affairs did little to encourage robust development of the tribal executive and committee system, except in law enforcement. Maori leaders, however, were increasingly appreciating that the welfare organisation apparatus could be useful for general collectivist as well as tribal collectivist purposes. page 261Although the official committees were originally rurally and tribally oriented, moreover, a number of Maori leaders, including some marae-based rangatira, saw that expanding the committee system onto urban streets might be useful for such matters as promoting race relations (or at least stopping their deterioration), assisting 'at danger' youth and creating a Maori collectivist ethos beyond the home marae or tribal headquarters.
In mid-century discussions it was already appreciated that setting up committees under the welfare organisation in the cities could be achieved only (except for urban tribes, or in towns or city suburbs with large concentrations of people from a particular tribe, usually based nearby) by pan-tribal or, more usually, decidedly non-tribal committees. The latter naturally gelled with the Ratanaist strand that had been so influential for some two decades. The beginning of urbanisation among Maori, therefore, added a complication to hopes of using the 1945 system as a beach-head for tribally based autonomy. From a tribal autonomist perspective, urban-based committees could be at best only a holding measure, helping Maoritanga survive, if not flourish, in a harsh new environment. The tribal focus would have to be kept up through informal social contact, tribal communication with dispersed members and 'visits home' for occasions such as weddings, holidays, whare runanga/meeting house openings and tangi/funerals. Incipient urbanisation, then, added yet another challenge for the many tribal leaders determined to further the autonomist agenda through welfare organisation committees.
But the most fundamental challenge remained that of the official policy of assimilation. While Fraser's 1949 report as Minister of Maori Affairs stated that his goal was 'an independent, self-reliant and satisfied Maori race working side by side with the Pakeha', in that year's general election campaign Labour had offered the same 'equality'-based policies as in the past. In the grand scheme of things, even the welfare organisation constituted only a minor policy and operational thrust. But this essentially assimilationist platform did not go far enough for the increasing numbers of Europeans who found the rhetoric of Maori self-determination, and even the sight of Maori socio-economic 'uplift' (which was significant in the period 1938–49), to be alarming. During the election campaign, the opposition made great gains by emphasising its continuing allegation page 262that the government was being held to ransom by the 'Maori mandate'. This may have been one reason why sufficient pakeha switched their votes to the National Party at the polls to bring Labour down.
When Sidney Holland's National ministry took office, Maori were understandably dismayed. His party had highlighted during the campaign that it was offering less to Maori than had Labour. This was across the board: an attack on both 'welfarist' state interventionism and – especially given its even greater stress than Labour on rapid assimilation – the quest for Crown recognition of rangatiratanga. Moreover, New Zealand now had a ruling party in which Maori were not represented at parliamentary level, for the first time since the provincial period in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. With no Maori in the political executive, a six-decade political tradition ended and, in addition, the office of Member of the Executive Council Representing the Maori Race was abolished. While the principal activities of the Department of Maori Affairs continued to be overseen by the Board of Maori Affairs, this no longer contained a Maori MP.
The reasons for such developments are complex and varied. A racial backlash against the increasingly visible Maori presence in urban areas may have played its part. Race relations could be deemed to be 'the best in the world' when most pakeha knew Maori only at a distance, but when Maori moved into their neighbourhoods and brought unfamiliar ways of behaviour with them the relationship could well degenerate. Whatever the reasons, there was an increasingly ethnocentric mood in pakeha New Zealand, and the policies of the incoming government reflected this trend. One of its ministers had said, when National opposed removing liquor discrimination, that Maori 'are Natives to me, and I will call them what I like': they should be treated 'like children'.
Similar comments were increasingly being made in public in a number of quarters, sometimes using language reminiscent of the previous century. At the same time, post-war assisted immigration from Europe, especially from Britain, aimed to increase the population on the basis of white 'kith and kin' who would fit in with the dominant culture of the nation. This clearly did not bode well for Maori aspirations for recognition of and respect for rangatiratanga. While it is true that Labour had 'no long page 263term commitment to empowering the Maori people', National was decidedly against such empowerment. If anything, it stood for disem-powering Maori.
Faced with Maori agency, however, members of the new cabinet proved to be pragmatic. A few ministers reflected a feeling in some National Party circles, for example, that, although one era of Maori development was finishing, another was beginning – and they were not too concerned that the participants continued to identify as Maori. One reason for this was that an emergent new Maori leadership was able to work within the pakeha as well as the indigenous world. It was assumed, in any case, that in the longer term the process of absorbing Maoridom would be facilitated by increasing numbers of such Maori 'modernisers'.
In a broader sense, however, it might be said that time was on the side of Maori in fulfilling at least some of their aspirations for self-determination. The half-century from the 1890s to the 1940s had been characterised in Maoridom by enormous social, economic, demographic, cultural and political developments. Despite the beginnings of 'urban drift' towards its end, since the 1920s much had happened to affirm the vibrancy and adaptability of the Maori people, their organisational modes and their culture. At mid-century, many marae-centred communities were thriving and others were being reconstructed. The pace of tribal and cultural reconstruction had been assisted by socio-economic gains under Labour, which had done 'more for the material well-being of the Maori people than any other Government or Party'. That this had occurred without Labour 'really understanding Maori culture' indicates that, intentionally or otherwise, significant autonomist advances were quite possible under governments which had a poor appreciation of Maori perspectives. Governments would do whatever matters of state required. If political pressure, or national economic production, required measures that would also assist Maori fortunes or aspirations, the need to intervene would qualify – for as long as was expedient – hegemonic, pakeha-oriented ideology and strategy.
Expedience proved to be as much a characteristic of National as of Labour, whatever its rhetoric and formal policies. The new government, for example, continued inherited agricultural and pastoral developments page 264which promised benefits for Maori that were also in the 'public good'. The situation was not entirely clearcut, and some National suggestions for such reform clearly violated rangatiratanga. The Labour MPs fought attempts, for example, to facilitate compulsory rationalisation of land ownership for, in Tirikatene's words, that 'hits right into the heart and soul of Maori mental sentiment and Mana i.e. the alienation of his lands without his consent … It is not the value of the land that counts but the principle'. But the Crown was, after the 1949 general election, prepared to continue working through the Maori Welfare Organisation and other Maori institutions when it believed that the benefits to Maori would further its own aims and objectives. The struggle for rangatiratanga would keep operating within as well as outside and against the state.
One issue faced by the Crown which would ultimately assist Maori in their pursuit of rangatiratanga was New Zealand's role in the international community. Again, while Labour and National ideologies clashed, both had to face certain global realities. While 'empire' had reached its greatest-ever geographical spread in the 1930s, the subsequent war had been a catalyst for the beginning of global decolonisation. The New Zealand Labour Party had taken a relatively 'progressive' stance on such issues, and its record on the international decolonisation movement had been followed within Maoridom. From the 1950s, whatever National's formal foreign policy, the world experience of 'national liberation' struggles would be increasingly closely monitored by New Zealand. That Maori leaders were attuned to these issues did not go unnoticed in state circles, although the ramifications for New Zealand would take decades to work through – and in the eyes of many remained unresolved by the end of the century.
Such debates and developments were already present in incipient form in mid-century New Zealand. Repatternings of Maori leadership to meet post-war challenges and changes were being observed in the 1940s. Some of the new generation of Maori leaders that was emerging had qualifications and approaches which reflected urbanisation, higher across-the-board educational standards (resulting from the reforms of the 1930s), the increase in quality of life among Maori set in train by Labour's equalising policies, and the opportunity for leadership thrown up by the page 265experiences (and deaths) of wartime. Post-war leaders, who were not necessarily of traditional rangatira stock, assisted with, and were sometimes at the forefront of, the operation of the 1945 legislation – either on behalf of the Crown, especially at head office in Wellington, or out in the field on behalf of their tribes.
Those in the Labour camp, in particular, focused on achieving full equality in society for Maori, while at the same time seeking to promote those aspects of Maoridom which had survived assimilationist colonisation and were deemed worthy of preservation, revival or adaptation. In this sense, they had taken on board the ideas of the mainstream Young Maori Party milieu, which had long been developing a vision of two peoples in one nation. Ngata had insisted in 1929, for example, that Maori demanded to remain ethno-culturally distinct, and that aspects of traditional culture which should be retained (including the language) needed proactive protection.
Wherever and however the post-war Maori leaders operated, however assimilated they appeared to be (or not), most reflected the general desire of their people to retain their 'differentness', and seek Crown respect for rangatiratanga, at the same time as participating increasingly in mainstream New Zealand. They were, then, heirs to a long effort to come to terms with the state and its political economy while at the same time attempting to rebuild organised Maoridom. The Crown was fully aware that the 'Maori problem' had not gone away.126