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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 13. 1970

Maori Land Myth

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Maori Land Myth

Maori Nationalism and Maori land are in the news again after a long period when little interest was shown in either. The outcry over diminishing Maori land has always been connected with an organisation of tribal leaders eager to prevent the selling of their birthright to the acquisitive pakeha.

There is nothing new in the existence of these movements, though their connection with Maori protest has not always been clear. But it is true that over the last 25 years the process of shrinking Maori land has continued, with a few acres being taken here and there for public utilities such as roads. The same sort of thing has occurred with land owned by Europeans, but in general they have been, better informed as to the legal steps involved.

Land, to the Maori, is identity. He has been making laws regarding its use and apportionment for hundreds of years and it has always been a symbol of power and influence. As in other societies it has been the cause of wars and alliances.

It has been only too tempting to use all sorts of methods, legal and illegal, to remove land from a people content to take from it only sufficient to live in comfort. There is no doubt that the Treaty of Waitang has not been applied by New Zealand administrators. The Maori had little knowledge of such things as compensation, and often was forced into debt to recover land which had been leased for fifteen or twenty years.

It can be' argued that the Maori had access to legal advice, but this was not readily taken because the traditional adviser was the elder of the tribe. Events have caught up with the Maori, and he has suddenly realised that he owns very little of his traditional soil, and that his family is now so big that it can no longer live off the land. In local tribal areas there has been a sudden move to consolidate any land left and to use it for tribal benefit. Elders have plans to put what land they can to use in training local youths to farm so they will stay in the district and maintain contact with the tribal group. But there arc costs of compensation in recovering the land and other difficulties which are only just becoming apparent to the elders. Young men are being lured away to the cities to compete in the pakeha world. There is something sad in this, for the Maori tradition has no time for competition in any capitalist sense. To the Maori, competition was on a personal basis to prove ability in cultural or physical skills.

With the growing concern of the elders there has been a great increase in the nationalist movements. Kotahitanga (the name means 'unity') is an old movement, lately associated with the Kingatu religion. A mixture of magic and anglicanism has produced a devout following of Maoris who believe in the power of prayer and religious formulae to achieve miracles.

With very respected leaders. Kotahitanga has a considerable popularity in the central districts of the North Island, though less in the South. It seeks to invoke the Treaty of Waitangi to regain tribal lands.

The Maori Organisation on Human Rights has less respected leaders but a more militant following. Matenga Baker, an influential member of the Ngati Raukawa/Ngali Toa tribes is able to gain many young followers with his dynamic policies. Darryl Cunningham, another member, tried to present a petition to Queen Elizabeth at Waitangi earlier this year.

Their cause is hopeless. Pioneers and conquerors throughout history have had little regard for tribal boundaries. In America and Australia, the pioneering European has put the land to use and acquired ownership. The Maori has about as much chance of getting the Treaty of Waitangi ratified as the Red Indians have of repossessing Vancouver Island.

Maori land is now a myth. There will be no profit in the Maori people as a whole trying to regain traditional homelands. It will be all the Maori can do to retain those he already possesses in these days of specialisation and amalgamations of smallholdings. Maori lands arc now producing more than the Maori of old would have dreamed possible. Maori nationalists will have to reconcile themselves to the fact that New Zealand is now an advanced, technology-worshipping country which could not survive economically if it were to revert to past conditions of ownership.

Colin Knox