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Maori and the State: Crown-Māori relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa, 1950-2000

Revitalisation and the Maori Community Development Act

Revitalisation and the Maori Community Development Act

Questions of leadership and self-governance were of increasing significance within Maoridom, including at its interface with the official and pakeha world. Maori had gained better educational opportunities in the urban centres and had been rapidly intermarrying with pakeha, and from 1971 the Race Relations Act outlawed discrimination on race grounds. But many Maori still lacked (in Robert Mahuta’s words) the ‘experience, education and sophistication required to act as effective political participants’ within dominant power structures. The committees helped many to gain confidence and experience in a world dominated by pakeha socio-economic constructs and culture. A commentator noted in the later 1970s that tangata whenua were seeking to become ‘legitimate participants in the decision-making processes and in the social institutions of society’, while at the same time retaining their own ‘cultural forms’. The NZMCpage 144 system allowed for political participation for sizeable numbers at flaxroots level, and for new leaders to emerge at its higher levels.

By the 1970s, a growing number of young, articulate and well educated Maori had begun to gain a voice, and even elected positions and kudos, in some of the flaxroots committees. Before long, a few individuals among them were taking up regional and national positions, replacing some of the conservative leaders of the NZMC structure. They were, in some senses, better placed by their education and (urban) experience to liaise with state agencies and pakeha sympathetic to Maori causes. The most successful leaders, it was widely noted, tended to be those ‘comfortable with the values and customs of both the Maori and the Pakeha’.

Many contemporary observers and participants, moreover, saw the Maori associations system as a means of revitalising Maori unity in a way that was reminiscent of the Maori Parliament of the late nineteenth century or of Ngataism in the first half of the twentieth. Official committees and councils interconnected with other organised sectors of Maoridom, tribally-based or otherwise, from the local level to the national. The Tuhoe Trust Board, for example, complemented the work of marae-based official committees, their executives and the Waiariki District Maori Council. Its tribal urban outposts in Rotorua, Auckland and later Wellington acted as conduits for the involvement of its members outside the rohe, and a number of Tuhoe also participated in pan-tribal voluntary organisations in the cities.30

Experience of leadership and general community service through the official committee structure was especially important among newly urbanised Maori seeking to recollectivise aspects of their lives in a different and often difficult environment. Within a year of the founding (in 1964) of one suburban Auckland committee, a marae project was under way ‘as a focal point for community sentiment’. Many of the committee members had already been members of other Maori organisations, and now wished to further develop their ‘Maoriness’ within structures that partially replicated the social collectivism inherent in tribal-based life. At the committee’s triennial elections in 1967, fuller community representation ensued, after people involved in a wide range of occupations, and tribal, church, school and other organisations, stood for office.

Five pakeha were invited to join the committee as well, in order both to introduce a ‘multiracial’ dimension and to provide additional expertise. The European associates were professionals (especially in the education sphere) whose attributes complemented those of the members who were Maori. Their skills were especially needed for the marae project. Reflecting the general class position of the tangata whenua, many of the Maori members of official committees were drawn from the lower socio-economic ranks. In the case ofpage 145 the suburban committee under scrutiny, at one point there were four drivers, two clerical workers and a freezing worker, as well as a pastor. Its Maori members acquired new skills and attributes from intermingling with the coopted members and with other contacts in the course of the various committee activities. The ‘committee grew in stature in the eyes of the community’, especially because of its welfare work. It was one of the many official committees which gained ‘a sense of control and mastery’ over local Maori affairs.

The official system, in short, continued to offer a great deal to very many Maori people. There had been a number of administrative changes over the years, such as the 1969 alteration to allow direct Maori committee representation upon district councils, giving flaxroots organisations greater potential influence. But the changes had been piecemeal, the government was increasingly predisposed (for its own ideological and fiscal reasons) to hand Maori issues (and problems) to Maori, and self-determinationist voices from voluntary sectors and radical groups within Maoridom were becoming louder and more insistent. Because of its propensity to develop in non-approved directions, moreover, and because ways of responding to the Maori Renaissance needed to be addressed, in the late 1970s the Crown decided to carry out a reappraisal of the whole system. The government review considered a variety of structural and other issues, from local empowerment initiatives (within and outside the NZMC structure) to recent social and cultural developments. The reviewers addressed both the Maori Renaissance and the increasing pakeha acceptance of Maori culture and organisation. As a result, the Maori Welfare Act was overhauled in 1979 and renamed the Maori Community Development Act (MCDA). Replacement of the word ‘welfare’ by ‘community development’ was intended to be a powerful signal that the paternalism which had once dominated the Crown and its official committee system was now deemed to be anachronistic. The theme of the changes was greater autonomy: there would be a move from welfare-statism towards community empowerment and self-reliance.

One analysis has concluded that the new Act ‘would seem to empower’ the various levels of the official system ‘to take an interest in any activity they wish’. Maori committees were renamed Marae committees, reflecting an appreciation of the continuing importance in Maori life of an institution once thought doomed to ultimate disappearance under the impact of modernity and urbanisation. Instead, marae were being reinvigorated in the rural areas and continued to be established in new forms (formally or otherwise) in the urban spaces. Marae of disparate types, in effect, combined functions of ‘local self-government’ with those of cultural perpetuation, renovation and development. Subsidies to Maori committees had already generally become known as ‘marae subsidies’.31

30 Levine, Stephen, The New Zealand Political System: Politics in a Small Society, Sydney, 1979, p 146 (for ‘legitimate participants’ quote); Stokes (ed), Nga Tumanako, p 19 (for ‘experience, education and sophistication’ quote); Stokes et al, Te Urewera, p xviii; Hazlehurst, ‘Maori Self-Government’, p 79; Hazlehurst, Political Expression, p 18 (for ‘comfortable with the values’ quote).

31 Ormsby, ‘Maori Tikanga’, p 17 (for ‘seem to empower’ and ‘local self-government’ quotes); Butterworth, ‘Men of Authority’, pp 12–13, 20; Walker, ‘The Politics’, pp 172–5 (p 172 for ‘focal point’ quote, p 175 for ‘grew in stature’ quote), p 179 (for ‘control and mastery’ quote); Maori Community Development Act 1979 see Kernot, People of the Four Winds on European involvement in Maori committees.