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


page 146


The MCDA, then, was an attempt to adjust to new social and political developments in both Maori and wider New Zealand society. Its broadening of the functions allocated to the Maori associations reflected, among other things, pressures stemming from the increasing radicalisation of (especially young) Maori. Over the previous decade, many members and associates of the associations had become increasingly frustrated that their participation had led to neither fundamental control of their own affairs nor other types of change (even if some communities had experienced an increasing feeling or degree of empowerment through working in or with the NZMC system).

Such thinking partly reflected the growing influence within Maoridom of international ‘alternative discourses’ and the rise of a new generation of urban-based Maori activists. Seeking to utilise lessons learned from political movements overseas in the struggle for rangatiratanga, many activists judged the state’s record and intentions harshly. Whatever it might have said and done, whatever concessions it had apparently made to Maori autonomist and other wishes, the Crown was still seen to be assimilationist in its aims. It was seen to have exploited the fact that many Maori living in the cities had drifted away from a traditional or collective base, some of them as a result of lumpenisation but many because of a belief that the only way of ‘getting on’ was to adopt a pakeha worldview and its accompanying set of behavioural characteristics. Urbanisation, then, provided the backdrop for what many saw as new and disguised Crown ways of implementing old policies which essentially incorporated the vision expressed by an official inquiry in 1965. Seeking to characterise the Maori who had entered the ‘new world’ of urban life, the inquiry members had approvingly commented: ‘He believes in integration and wishes to fit in and not be a man apart.’

However much they were products of a city upbringing (and sometimes because of it), many of the new Maori generation rejected the underlying premises of this integrationist vision. Some of the most alienated, especially those ‘at the bottom of the social heap’ and who had failed to acquire educational qualifications, had begun to form or join Maori gangs. A ‘form of inarticulate protest’, the gangs were nevertheless collectivist in orientation, the Stormtroopers being the first (in 1970) to gain a high profile. As the years progressed and the gangs proved to be both durable and increasingly intractable and even criminal in their activities, they attracted much adverse public attention from pakeha and Maori alike.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of radical young political activists were concerned with reclaiming and reconstituting rangatiratanga. They, too, wouldpage 147 have little truck with constituted authority, including with established Maori institutions of either official or non-official ilk. They considered the official committee structure, and quasi-official and other ‘respectable’ organisations, to have produced little for their people, and even to have led Maori people into ‘collaboration’. One member of a Maori committee inadvertently expressed what many radicals thought about the underlying nature of the system: when a committee secretary ‘rings you up or comes around and sees you and tells you you’re a great white chief it makes you feel good inside’.

With Maori generally becoming more forthright in their methods of seeking Crown recognition of rangatiratanga, and the rise of a Maori Renaissance spearheaded by younger activists, increasing numbers of individuals in both city and country tended to ignore or bypass the committee system. The local committees – with their policing powers, their punishment regimes and their expectations as to proper ways of living – were coming to be seen as agencies of the state rather than as organisations which might utilise and even appropriate state-provided resources for Maori purposes. An historian writing in the late 1960s and influenced by international radicalising tendencies, interpreted Maori politics as an interplay between cooperation and protest; he speculated that past government structures which had encouraged cooperation between Crown and Maori had been a key reason behind the quiescence of Maori over many decades and the relative absence of overt protest.

By the 1970s, confrontational protest was very much on the agenda again. While considerable numbers stayed with the Maori associations, many others decided that the structures established in the early 1960s had failed to restore ‘the dignity that has been lost to us’ or to constitute a sufficient force in the ‘struggle … against the forces of colonisation’. The Maori Welfare Act’s structures had sometimes provided a platform to advance Maori aspirations for self-determination, but they were also seen to have served to co-opt Maori into ‘the pakeha system’. This implied, for many within the protest movement and in other sectors of Maoridom too, that mere structural reform of the official system would achieve little by way of advancing autonomy. While it survived, and remained an important player in the fight for rangatiratanga, including (and increasingly) at its upper levels, the NZMC system was viewed as overly timid or compromised in its methods by the more radical sectors of the Maori world. One response from the Crown was to incorporate flaxroots initiatives into new ‘self-reliance’ policies, providing for this within the structure of the MCDA, but this was generally appreciated mostly by those already working with or within the official system. Another response, from within Maoridom, was to seek innovative ways of asserting rangatiratanga and, in some cases, to pursue radical, sweeping and even extreme goals, aims and aspirations.32

page 148

32 Prichard and Waetford, Report of the Committee of Inquiry, p 111 (for ‘believes in integration’ quote); Walker, ‘The Politics’, p 180 (for ‘rings you up’ quote); Edwards, Mihipeka, p 190 (for ‘the dignity’ quote); Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, p 205 (for ‘struggle’ quote); Williams, Politics of the New Zealand Maori, p 162; Butterworth, ‘Aotearoa 1769–1988’, ch 10, p 16 (for ‘a form of inarticulate protest’ quote).