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A Compendium of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs in the South Island. Volume Two.

Remarks on the Individualization of Native Title

Remarks on the Individualization of Native Title.

From considering the success that has attended this experiment at Kaiapoi, the mind naturally turns towards the general question of individualizing Native lands.

Communism in land is admitted to be the great obstacle to the social and material advancement of the Maori people. It is very certain that, under the present system of tenure, the Natives will never be induced to give up their low Maori habits, and to-adapt themselves to the requirements of a superior civilization. So long as their lands are held in common, they have, properly speaking, no individual interest in improvements, and, consequently, there is little or no encouragement to industry or incentive to ambition. On the other hand, it may be safely argued that nothing would tend more powerfully to call forth their industrial energies and to promote a desire for worldly improvement than the possession, in severalty, of an exclusive title to a piece of land, however small in extent.

Let a kind and paternal Government do what it may in establishing schools and eleemosynary institutions, and in other endeavours to promote their material welfare, there seems little hope of the Maoris making any real progress in civilization, or any improvement in their worldly circumstances, without the previous individualization of their lands.

Fixity of residence is one of the first requisites of civilization, and, in the case of the Maori, it is hardly possible to secure this without establishing exclusive individual interests in the soil. If, therefore, we would raise these Natives out of their present low social condition, and bring civilizing agencies to operate successfully upon them, we must commence by individualizing their lands, and conferring sole and undisputed titles. Let the present system continue, and we may safely predict that the Maoris of two generations hence will be essentially "Maori" in their manners and habits, and that they will have made little, if any, progress in the arts and comforts of civilization. On the other hand, let a system of individualization (however limited) be adopted, let every Maori in the country have a portion of land of sufficient extent allotted to him, and secured by Crown grant or otherwise, and we may reasonably expect that even a few years would bring about a vast improvement in their condition. If we may argue from the results that have already attended the experiment at Kaiapoi, the immediate effect of such a measure would be to stir up and encourage the people in their efforts page 103for individual improvement, and to give a stimulus to their industrial energies that nothing else could impart.

In short, we submit that a proper individualization of their land must, after all, be the first appreciable steps towards the introduction of the Native people to the benefits of a more advanced civilization, and that this should, therefore, form a prominent feature in any general scheme that may be devised for their future management.

As a necessary preliminary to individualization, and as involving in itself important considerations, the settlement of tribal boundaries is a subject well deserving the earnest attention of the Government. Nothing would more materially promote the peace and security of the country than the permanent adjustment of tribal claims, and the determination of their respective boundaries.

It is notorious that upon no subject are the Maoris more sensitive or more jealous of interference than in regard to the boundaries of their lands. For generations back this has been the great bone of contention between opposing tribes. A land dispute has been the proximate, if not the immediate, cause of almost every war among the New Zealanders. Nor, so long as these causes remain, can these land strifes be said to have died out. Though, by mutual consent, they may have long laid dormant, a mere accident might prove sufficient to call them forth afresh. At the present day, there lies between the possessions of almost every two large tribes in New Zealand a strip of neutral territory, known as Whenua tautohe, or "disputed land"—as, for example, Te Wairoa, between the possessions of the Parauhau and Uriohau tribes. So long as these debateable grounds remain so, there is a continual danger of land feuds being renewed. Any overt act of ownership exercised upon such land, by either of the contending parties, would be construed into a challenge, the tribal jealousy would be aroused, and the worst consequences might ensue.

Looking therefore to the desirability of placing the inter-tribal relations upon a more secure and permanent footing, it is obviously of the utmost importance that some scheme should be devised for partitioning the Native lands in such a way as to secure to the various tribes and hapus their respective possessions clearly defined and fixed by mutually recognised bounds or metes.

Besides the advantages that would accrue in a purely Native point of view, it cannot be doubted that such a system, if carried out, would very much facilitate land purchasing operations, and by removing the present obstructions, would pave the way to a more general alienation by the Natives of their waste lands.

That such a scheme would meet the approval and co-operation of the Natives themselves—without which nothing could be done—may be safely inferred from the readiness and evident interest with which the chiefs of the Kohimarana Conference received and discussed the Governor's Message on this subject, of the 18th July, 1860.

The following passages from speeches may suffice:—

Tohi Te Ururangi (Ngatiwhakaue): "Now let us adopt the suggestions of the Governor respecting our lands, and get them all surveyed, lest perplexities should hereafter arise; that I and mine may avoid the chance of a dispute with my younger brother; that I may leave my piece of land unencumbered to my children in the event of my death. The land is the source of all the troubles of this Island. When we return to our home let every man define the boundaries of his land, and we shall thus prevent loss of life."

Hukiki, (Ngatiraukawa): "This is the word that we have been in search of in years past: the Governor Has now revealed that word to us about surveying our land * * * Three years have we waited for it, but when will the lands be surveyed?"

Ihakara, (Ngatiraukawa): "I will now remark upon the Governor's message. It is good. I wish our lands to be defined. That is our desire in order that each may have his portion clearly defined. According to my idea no time should be lost."

Wiremu Tamehana Te Neke, (Ngatiawa): "Now we know that the Governor is indeed a friend of the Maori, because he has consented that our lands shall be surveyed; for this reason I say let the plan be quickly carried out."

Tamihana Te Rauparaha, (Ngatitoa): "We (Ngatitoa) and Ngatiraukawa will carry this (the partition of tribal lands) into effect. Our tribes are quick in taking up European customs. Let the head (i.e., Southern part of the Island) commence it."

Paora Tuhaere, (Ngatiwhatua): "The Governor proposes subdividing the land. It is right that the land should be apportioned among the owners thereof. The Governor's advice, that disputed land should be settled by a Committee, is good. That just agrees with what I said in my speech the other day. Should a difficulty arise let it be referred to a disinterested tribe."

To show the unanimity that prevailed on this subject, it is sufficient to observe that only one (Hori Te Whetuki), out of more than a hundred who were present during the discussion, expressed an unfavourable opinion.

It would not be politic (even were it practicable) to attempt the introduction of such a measure into a dissaffected district. The Natives are so extremely jealous in all matters relating to their lands that it is sometimes impossible to disabuse their minds of a suspicion that the Government have an ulterior object even in a measure that is proposed expressly for their benefit. It would therefore be necessary to commence any operations of this kind in a district where both the disposition of the Natives and the physical features of the country would most favour the experiment; and there is little doubt that as the advantages of a better defined tenure become apparent the desire for the new system would gradually spread; in the same way that at Canterbury, the partition of the Kaiapoi reserve, when it had reached a successful issue, was followed by a general desire among the Natives of the other Settlements to have their reserves treated in the same manner.

It has been objected that the complication of tribal claims arising out of the obvious causes of inheritance, conquest, and intermarriage, would be such as to oppose an insuperable barrier to the proper partition of tribal lands.

page 104

It appears to the writer that the question of tribal claims has been needlessly encumbered with difficulties. That there are some very complicated claims no one will deny, but it is submitted that these would prove the exception and not the rule, and when they did occur would be so limited in extent as not to occasion any serious embarrassment. On this point I may quote the authority of Sir William Martin, D.C.L.:—"The lands of a tribe do not form one unbroken district over which all the members of the tribe may wander. On the contrary they are divided into a number of districts appertaining to the several sub-tribes. These small districts are in many cases numerous, and are for the most part sufficiently well defined." (Pamphlet, 1846).

From physical difficulties of the country, and from the introduction into the tribal possessions of a set of claims arising out of inter-marriage, there are perhaps few cases in which a tribe or hapu has a clearly defined or Complete boundary to its own lands as against neighbouring tribes or hapus; but as a rule it would, it is thought, be a comparatively easy matter to fix, by the mutual consent of adjoining tribes, a fair boundary as between each other, and to determine finally the extent of the imported inter-marriage claims.

The best machinery for carrying out the tribal partition would be a district runanga, representing fully the tribes and hapus interested in the lands to be partitioned; but the details of any such plan must be ruled very much by circumstances.

I am of opinion that "length of time, publicity, and knowledge of the Maori language"—the same requisites that are given by Sir William Martin as essential to a sound purchase of land from the Natives,—would be found sufficient to ensure a satisfactory and permanent adjustment of tribal boundaries. Indeed so sanguine am I upon this subject, that I should have great readiness in attempting, with proper help, (should the Government desire it), the tribal or hapu partition of the whole of the Native lands in the district to which His Excellency has been pleased recently to appoint me, (i.e. Wellington West Coast), and I should be hopeful of a very successful result.

The subsequent individualization of these tribal or hapu estates, or portions of them, would be best accomplished by a general Runanga, as in the Kaiapoi case. Considerable difficulties would doubtless present themselves, but the exercise of a little skill and the necessary amount of patience and perseverance would generally overcome them.

The Rev. Mr. Hamlin observes (parl. paper, 1860) that "the absence of individualization seems rather attributable to the state of the country than to any defect in the line of descent. Circumstanced as the Natives have been, they say one individual cannot hold his land against the attacks of his enemies; therefore, for security, peace, and safety, it was necessary to give all the branches of a family a participation in the possession, though the individualization of the descent is clearly recognized."

Walter Buller, R.M.

Native Office, Auckland, March 1st, 1862.