The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 5 (August 1, 1939)
Youth takes the Helm — Young Maori Leaders Discuss Native Problems
Youth—enthusiastic, critical, but at all times optimistic—this was the keynote of the Young Maori Conference which was held recently at the Auckland University College. Intelligent young Maoris from all parts of the North Island—men of college and university education, teachers, Training College students and ministers-gathered together to discuss at the round table the problems which so vitally concern the welfare of the native race. In the background, but constantly guiding and suggesting, were the elders under the leadership of Sir Apirana Ngara. Native Department officials, health officers and expert educationists gave the benefit of their specialised knowledge and training in the most outstanding attempt yet made to find a solution to questions which should be the vital concern of every New Zealander.
No diffidence was shown by these young Maoris in getting down to bed-rock. They spared no feelings. They were ever ready to admit their own racial weaknesses. Best of all, and most heartening to Maori elders and pakeha observers alike, was the firmly expressed intention to preserve, for all time, the character of their race, to carry on all that is best and noblest in Maori tradition—to wipe away the blemishes and to make some really tangible effort “to build a nation of New Zealand.”
Little wonder then that with the delegates entering into the discussions with such enthusiasm and with such responsibility to the future, the conference should have concluded with such a distinct atmosphere of achievement. Dr. H. Belshaw, Professor of Economics at Auckland University College, who probably more than any other, was responsible for the convening of the conference, said that it had succeeded beyond the highest hopes of those who organised it. It is difficult as yet to estimate what will be its most tangible results, but, as one speaker at the fare-well gathering suggested, the conference has started something really important.
Most important results to the mind of Professor Belshaw were that the conference had led to a distinct encouragement of mutual understanding between Maori and pakeha, and that it had emphasised the awareness of the University regarding its responsibilities to the Maori people.
Referrring to the small proportion to population of Maori students relative to European students at the Auckland Teachers' Training College and the Auckland University College, Professor Belshaw said that the proportion should be the same for both races. The reason for the present disparity in proportion was that the Maori people did not have the same opportunities as the pakeha. However, by the assistance they had given, the New Zealand Council for Adult Education and the University had shown that, in this respect, they realised their responsibilities to the Maori people.
Sage counsel in many of the discussions was the former Minister of Native Affairs, Sir Apirana Ngata. Again and again throughout the conference, he stressed that it was only by helping himself that the Maori could achieve his salvation. When the pakeha saw him trying to help himself, Sir Apirana said, the pakeha would do his best to help the Maori.
The conference listened with respect to provocative statements on questions of health, education and housing, delivered by departmental experts. Couched in terms calculated to awaken the Maori to the difficulties besetting the problems confronting him—these addresses were keenly seized upon for talking points. Many valuable suggestions were made, and, at the same time, the departmental officers were able to gain a closer insight into the Maori outlook on many important points.
Topics discussed during the morning sessions of the conference extending over five days covered practically every phase of Maori life and associated problems. Particular attention was paid to economic conditions—especially to land resources and their use. Housing and the home, with the attendant problems, arising from the effects of development schemes on Maori communal customs, also demanded close attention. Health talks were introduced by addresses from health officers who had no hesitation in pointing out that the establishment of additional facilities page 40 was unnecessary until it was seen that existing facilities were used.
Great emphasis was laid on that section of the agenda dealing with community and education. Here the conference had the benefit of an excellent introductory talk by the Senior Inspector of Native Schools, Mr. D. G. Ball. Mr. Ball pointed out that during the last few years a determined effort had been made to approach, from the Maori side, the question of teaching methods in Native Schools. Teachers were being taught Maori arts and crafts in order that they might acquire Maori sympathy and make the children feel that the school was genuinely a Maori school—a Maori institution in a Maori community.
Of particular interest were the discussions on the Maori language. Mr. Ball pointed out that it was impossible to make Maori the language of instruction, for English must be taught so that there was no possibility of any feeling of inferiority in talking to Europeans. Sir Apirana Ngata, discussing the same question, said he had formerly been opposed to the teaching of the Maori language in Native Schools, believing that there was insufficient time to learn both Maori and English. He now believed, however, that there was nothing worse than for one to be of Maori features and unable to speak the vernacular.
It was at an elders' round table discussion that an Auckland delegate, Mr. J. Rukutai, drew attention to one of the most vital problems—migration to the cities—touched upon at the conference. His telling description of the conditions under which many Maoris were forced to live and work in Auckland revealed the urgency of a problem which is growing rapidly in magnitude, and which in a few years may be too big to handle.
Mr. Rukutai stressed particularly the bad housing conditions of many Maoris living in the cities. The majority were living in houses in which pakehas would not live. Commercial houses provided no opportunities for young Maori men and women. Employment for them could be found only in such places as cheap cafes and Chinese gardens. Women, young and old, also tended to drift to the Chinese gardens.
The only remedy was repatriation, but many Maoris had become so deeply rooted in the life of the city, that they had no desire to return to the land. Mr. Rukutai pointed out that many of them had no land to return to. The drift to the cities could be checked only by the provision of greater inducements to the Maoris to stay at home. The elders were solemnly agreed that city life was no life for the Maori.
Again, one of the elders from North Auckland commented: “I am sure the opinion is unanimous that this is one of the finest things that has happened in the whole history of this country.”
Professor Belshaw, in a reference to the standard of the discussion at the Young Men's Round Table, said that it was of a quality at least as high as that which would have been heard from University students. It suggested most pointedly that, if given the opportunity, young Maori men and women could benefit from a University education. It was very gratifying, he added, that before the conference was finished it had already been decided to hold a further conference next year—and even more significant, that it was to be a conference convened by the Maoris themselves.
Great credit is due to the National Council for Adult Education, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and the University authorities who made the conference possible. To New Zealanders generally it marks a very definite milestone in the improvement of relations between the intellectual leaders of the two races. Perhaps after many long years of misunderstanding, it means also that the pakeha will be brought to a fuller realisation of his responsibilities to a people noted throughout the world for its high standard of intelligence remarkable in a native race.