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

Activism during the Third National Government

Activism during the Third National Government

The many different ideas on both goals and methods in the struggle for rangatiratanga remained a major problem for Maori. Even the land march organisation broke up into new groupings with varying tactics when it reached Wellington. One of these, Matakite o Aotearoa, would take up (among other things) the cause of the Tainui Awhiro people at Raglan for the return of ancestral land. The Te Kopua Block had been compulsorily taken for public works in the Second World War and later leased to a golf club. In 1976, demonstrations focused on a burial site in the block. Eventually, following help from the NZMC, the land was revested in the tangata whenua. Many Maori watched this and other direct actions closely, and took heed of their lessons.24

When the general elections were held soon after the land march and the setting up of the Waitangi Tribunal, many Maori voters registered protest at dashed hopes (and, perhaps, at being disproportionately hit by economic recession from 1974) by abstaining from voting. With Labour leaving office, however, Maori now faced a government with policies rather less sympatheticpage 170 (or, in many eyes, even more unsympathetic) to Maori aspirations. With dissatisfaction widespread, protest escalated, along with intense public debate on the past, present and future position of Maori in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi was generally the symbolic and convenient focus of public discourse. Although one radical Maori stance had, since the early 1970s, been to argue that the Treaty was ‘a fraud’ and should be rejected altogether, most called for the Crown to ‘Honour the Treaty’ – something which seemed potentially within grasp as pakeha consciousness of past Treaty violations grew.

Maori interpretations of ways of implementing the Treaty tended to revolve around an autonomist perspective which called for arrangements that accommodated ‘two peoples in one nation’. As in other post-settler countries, New Zealand’s indigenous population sought not just to question and decentre dominant western notions, but also to ‘re-recognize the authority of particular colonial discourses’. States had long appropriated and redeployed things indigenous, in the process forging ‘cross-cultural and cross-national agreements’; in turn, indigenous peoples attempted to force governments to ratify and/or renegotiate such agreements. In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi was the powerfully symbolic focus of such struggle. Maori utilised the discourse inscribed in ‘treaty language’ as part of their weaponry for regaining the rangatiratanga they had lost.25

Many pakeha in the 1970s, including those with legal and other types of professional expertise, were beginning to complement Maori action by becoming interested in or committed to the Treaty. By the end of the decade, the Waitangi Tribunal’s investigations were drawing public attention to matters that most pakeha had scarcely known about or considered. And although it could only hear contemporary claims, the Tribunal was increasingly to realise that it needed to explore their historical context in order to come to appropriate findings and recommendations.

At Waitangi Day in 1981, Governor-General Sir David Beattie reflected a growing public consciousness that the ‘one New Zealand’ paradigm was anachronistic: ‘we are not one people … nor should we try to be. We do not need to be’. This contrasted with the attitude of his predecessor, Sir Keith Holyoake, who had wanted to eliminate ‘any form of distinction’ between the races. Two years later, the Waitangi Tribunal declared, in the context of landmark findings and recommendations that received great publicity, that the Treaty ‘made us one country but acknowledged that we were two people’. Forms of partnership between cultures, peoples, institutions and structures seemed both attainable and desirable, especially in a society in which the two peoples increasingly inhabited the same spaces and intermarried freely. By the time of the official 1990 sesquicentennial commemoration of the founding of the nation, the ‘two peoples, one nation’ rhetoric had been widely takenpage 171 up within the state. Ways in which this idea could be better reflected in arrangements between Crown and Maori were being actively explored.26

To get to this point of engagement, a lot had happened both politically and socially in New Zealand. Fewer than twenty five years had passed since the Crown had forced through land legislation that was universally rejected by Maori leaders. Maori had generally retained allegiance to Labour, and their experiences of the reforms of the Kirk–Rowling government confirmed their loyalty while also inducing dismay and anger that ‘their party’ still fell far short of meeting their autonomist goals. Under the successor National government (1975–1984), headed by the domineering Robert Muldoon, a populist leader who had sympathies neither with white liberal nor Maori aspirations, the Maori struggle seemed set to be a difficult one. The new government was as anti-liberal on race relations issues as on much else, symbolised early on when it not only allowed the All Blacks to tour South Africa in 1976, but also gave them (in Muldoon’s words) ‘the Government’s blessing and goodwill’. When National talked of the Treaty in a positive sense, though it did so rarely, it was to use it as a unifying symbol for the ‘one nation’ of New Zealand.27

One of Muldoon’s first moves was to clear Parliament grounds of a ‘tent embassy’ set up by some protesters after the land march, setting the scene for a propensity to use coercion in relation to issues deemed to concern public order. In the later 1970s, radical action to dramatise Maori aspirations prompted an especially harsh reaction by the state, particularly towards movements or activities seen to be undermining Crown sovereignty or (in what more or less amounted to the same thing in the eyes of the Muldoon government) challenging ‘the majesty of the law’. The biggest confrontation occurred in urban Auckland over the troubled and contested Orakei Block, which hosted the only significant area remaining to the city’s Ngati Whatua iwi after 1869.

The saga recommenced in late 1976 when the government proposed to subdivide and develop 24 hectares of Crown land at Takaparawha/Bastion Point for high-income housing and parks. This land had been (as the Crown later conceded, following Waitangi Tribunal findings) unjustly alienated from the iwi, and Ngati Whatua had signalled that they wanted it returned. After the Crown proposals were announced, young Maori activists and radical leaders argued that the cautious advocacy exercised by traditional kaumatua had been, and remained, ineffective. They decided to take direct action when tribal leaders came to the conclusion, after negotiations with the Crown, that accepting a ‘compromise’ offer was the best that could be achieved.

Joe Hawke and others formed the Orakei Maori Committee Action Group, and on 5 January 1977 its members and supporters occupied Bastion Point. They demanded its return, and that of surrounding land, to the tangata whenua. Many Maori from other tribes, pakeha activists from socialist andpage 172 other groups, and Pacific Islanders joined the protest. It also found support from a wider network which included even traditionalist Maori. When the Crown offered to discuss a further compromise in February 1978, the protesters rejected suggestions by moderate leaders that this be explored.

After 506 days of tense but non-violent occupation, a 600-strong police and military operation broke up the protest camp and demolished its buildings on 25 May 1978. Police arrested 222 protesters, although they were in effect later exonerated after continued campaigning. A government olive branch, an offer to return some property to a trust board, was accepted by the tribe by year’s end. But Maori (along with many pakeha) had been shocked at the government’s tactics, and the eviction served to reinforce activist sentiment, especially among the young. Images of the state’s strong-arm procedures produced many evocations of previous coercive state operations against Maori defiance of ‘the law’, including the bloody invasion of Maungapohatu in 1916. While traditional leaders were seen to have the luxury of ‘tribal time’, which meant that it would ‘take as long as it took’ to rectify historical injustice, younger, often urban-educated, Maori were the more determined to force the honouring of Treaty promises. At very least, they sought to dramatise autonomist issues in the face of the unyielding attitudes of the Muldoon government. There was further activity at Takaparawha in 1982, and radical voices were heard ever more vociferously on Waitangi Day and at various protests and occupations until the mid-1980s.28

24 King, Whina, p 211; Butterworth, G V, ‘Breaking the Grip: An Historical Agenda for Nga Iwi Maori’, revision of a paper presented to the History Department, Massey University, 16 April 1987, p 2 (for ‘Maori people’ quote); Walker, ‘Maori People Since 1950’, p 513; Harris, Hīkoi, pp 60–62; Walker, ‘The Treaty of Waitangi’, p 59.

25 Sharp, Andrew, ‘The Treaty of Waitangi: Reasoning and Social Justice in New Zealand?’, in Spoonley, Paul, Pearson, David and Macpherson, Cluny (eds), Nga Take: Ethnic Relations and Racism in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Palmerston North, 1991, p 134; Renwick, William, ‘Decolonising Ourselves From Within’, British Review of New Zealand Studies, no 6, 1993, p 31; Oliver, W H, Claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington, 1991, p 8; Kelsey, Jane, ‘Legal Imperialism and the Colonization of Aotearoa’, in Spoonley, Paul, Macpherson, Cluny, Pearson, David and Sedgwick, Charles (eds), Tauiwi: Racism and Ethnicity in New Zealand, Palmerston North, 1984, pp 41–2; Allen, ‘Postcolonial Theory’, p 61 (for ‘re-recognize’ quote), p 62 (for ‘disavowed’ and ‘cross-cultural and cross-national’ quotes); McLeay (ed), New Zealand Politics, p 245; Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, pp 244–5; Poata-Smith, ‘He Pokeke Uenuku I Tu Ai’, p 105.

26 Renwick, ‘Decolonising Ourselves’, p 51 (for ‘we are not one people’ and ‘made us one’ quotes); Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, p 236; Orange, An Illustrated History, p 147 (for ‘any form of distinction’ quote); Mansfield, Bill, ‘Healthy Constitutional Relationships in a Culturally Diverse Society’, Wellington, Ministry of Justice internal resource document, nd, p 10.

27 Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, p 247.

28 Orange, An Illustrated History, pp 147, 182; Walker, ‘Maori People Since 1950’, p 513; Harris, Hīkoi, pp 78–85; Poata-Smith, ‘He Pokeke Uenuku I Tu Ai’, pp 104–5; Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, pp 183, 215–9; Tupoutahi Tamihana Te Winitana, personal communication, 28 July 2001 (for ‘tribal time’ and ‘take as long as it took’ quotes); Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, pp 247–8; Renwick, ‘Decolonising Ourselves’.