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State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950

Chapter One — The Quest for Autonomy in the Nineteenth Century

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Chapter One
The Quest for Autonomy in the Nineteenth Century

While this book focuses on the first half of the twentieth century, to begin at 1900 would be misleading. First of all, then, it sketches out themes from the previous century which are relevant to the quest for rangatiratanga. In their counterfactual quest for ways in which imperialism might have been more accommodating to indigenes, 'wishful thinking' historians have highlighted British acquiescence in the continued existence of certain indigenous customs and institutions, suggesting that such tolerance could have been greatly expanded. This is to miss the point that has already been stressed, that such concessions were expedients designed to be no more than temporary. The goal remained that of fully 'civilising savages'.

Institutions of indirect control

The imperial reality was generally that the Crown could only gradually extend its sway over the territory over which it held nominal sovereignty, and New Zealand was no exception. Until it gained first physical and then full hegemonic control over all the colony's inhabitants, the Crown had little choice but to allow chiefly institutions and Maori customs to continue. These needed, however, to be subject to controls, including the franchising of chiefs to keep a degree of 'law and order' on its behalf in buffer or even outer zones. Both within the areas under direct state control and in liminal regions where it had temporarily devolved authority to chiefs, the state would establish control institutions based on, derived from or equivalent to indigenous structures. These were not, despite the retrospective optimism of some historians, either designed to be or page 32operated as concessionary organs of self-determination.

The official runanga institutions of the 1860s, for example, were quickly abandoned by the Crown when they proved to be no longer useful as institutions of socio-racial control of Maori. While the state presented a unified stance at any given time, within it such matters as enfranchising indigenous institutions as modes of state control were contestable. In settler colonies, in particular, indirect control methods were far from universally popular among colonisers and their political representatives. When Native Minister Donald McLean proposed in the 1870s that 'Native Councils' could manage Maori areas, this was rejected by Parliament as too concessionary, even though they were to be headed and directed by pakeha officials. All the same, proposals for indirect control continued to be floated, partly in response to Maori organisational initiatives, which in turn partly addressed government intentions and actions.

Also in the 1870s, for example, Maori developed their own komiti/committees, reviving the old runanga institution in a new form which constituted one of the post-war strategies of resistance to the Crown. In some regions a komiti-based government and policing system arose beside that of the state — in Rotorua, Wanganui and the Far North, for example. The Crown could temporarily tolerate such developments, so long as they met state requirements. Komiti could not, for example, enforce their local or regional laws on pakeha, even when tikanga/customs or livelihoods were adversely affected by such matters as desecration of taonga (treasured items or places); this had happened at the internationally renowned Pink and White Terraces, for instance. Moreover, while some komiti remained resistant to the Crown and to colonisation, many came to grips with the inevitability of settlement. They calculated that by helping regulate it they would retain at least some tribal influence over events. Some groupings helped open up regions to settlement, including areas from which Crown personnel and settlers had been forcibly excluded.

The Maori MPs (themselves representing a supposedly temporary measure, pending assimilation) were often in the forefront of collaborative efforts aimed at ameliorating the effects of settlement. In 1883, for example, they secured the Native Committees Act to enable establishment page 33of officially constituted komiti, believing this would benefit Maori as well as the Crown. But the compromises involved in procuring the legislation were great. The Crown's aim was to ward off separatism by encompassing it. The final product, which was therefore far from their original idea, typified appropriative attempts by establishing a system that was toothless for Maori.

In the twelve large areas of the North Island designated under the legislation, the committees had few meaningful powers. They were denied, for example, the right to issue summonses. The committees were, moreover, to be used to promote government policies for investigating and individualising communal Maori land tenure. Yet even co-operation for limited objectives, such as providing advice to the Native Land Court, proved to be of little value, for the court would often ignore their deliberations. Maori soon found that their own informal komiti remained far more useful to them than those franchised by the Crown. A series of hui (meetings or assemblies) that called for real powers to be given to the official committees was ignored, and the system thereafter languished.

Such dashed hopes did not deflect Maori from their struggle to find an independent place within the pakeha-dominated polity. Their spokespeople, official and unofficial, consistently stressed that 'autonomy was fundamental', expressing this in many ways through time. Mihipeka Edwards, for example, has noted the struggle of Maori to establish that they were a 'people with our own dignity, pride and mana'. Even towards the end of the nineteenth century, when most pakeha believed Maori to be a 'dying race' which had lost its social control mechanisms, tribal control structures were still very much alive and new politico-cultural preservation techniques were being developed.26


Many Maori came to believe that the chances of even partial success against the might of British imperialism required a mass organisational assertion, one assisted and shaped by insistence that the Crown be held to account over its promise in the Treaty to respect rangatiratanga. While representing a significant experiment in the search for 'realistic' methods page 34of pushing for self-determination within state parameters, the komiti had proved to be too small in scale against a colonial government of marked centralising tendencies. Among the other sites and modes of resistance, some institutions were on a much grander scale.

Kingitanga/Kingism structures were particularly powerful, based on a pan-tribal unity movement centred on the Tainui iwi. Headed by a king, this movement had arisen in the 1850s as an effort to pre-empt the ongoing encroachment of the Crown on the Maori polity. 'Mana motuhake', often translated as separate government, was emblazoned on King Tawhiao's coat of arms. Kingitanga, viewed by the Crown as an attempt to establish a rival sovereignty to that of the state, had been militarily suppressed. After wartime defeat, confiscation of land and forced retreat from the Waikato into the Rohe Potae/King Country, the movement fought on for autonomy in ways other than military.

At first the Kingite leaders experimented with a unilaterally declared 'state within a state' in the King Country. When this proved unviable, they sought to open up their region to economic opportunity, but under their own control. For some time they believed that they had reached a 'compact' with the Crown to achieve at least some measure of this. The arrangement included retention of tribal ownership of lands, with leasing rather than selling to pakeha. But in the 1890s the Crown began divide-and-rule purchasing, while at the same time prohibiting private purchasing (under which sellers might at least have obtained better prices). By 1900 a third of the land had left Maori ownership, and large state inroads had been made into governance of the tribally owned areas.27

Meanwhile, the Kingite leadership had concluded that the Crown's strength lay partly in its centralised unity of purpose: regional unities were insufficient. The movement came to aim for, and in some interpretations had always in essence worked towards, aform of autonomy involving a unified Maoridom that operated alongside the British Crown for some purposes and under its umbrella for others. King Tawhiao told the Secretary of State for the Colonies that 'I am called a king, not for the purpose of separation, but in order that the natives might be united under one race, ever acknowledging the supremacy of the Queen, and claiming her protection'. The Maori MPs asserted in 1883 that Tawhiao page 35was 'the head of our race' and sought 'an elective body of Maoris' to 'get control of our lands', while also affirming that they did not want to 'obstruct the progress of colonisation'. The Kingitanga leaders pursued several possibilities for parallel government, hoping that the Maori people would throw their unified weight behind them and that this would lead to significant government concessions.

While many tribes declined to accommodate a movement which had ambitions to unite all tribes under its own leaders, Kingitanga pressed on nevertheless. After his reconciliation with the government, for example, King Tawhiao tried to get official endorsement for a 'Council of Chiefs' which would both share power with the Crown and attempt to secure 'all the rights and lands confirmed by the Treaty of Waitangi. Kingitanga remained the most unified movement in the quest for autonomy, eventually establishing at Maungakawa in 1892 a Kauhanganui/Great Council headed by a Tumuaki/Premier and a cabinet. But its laws went unrecognised by the Crown.28


Unity under a king was only one sort of unity, and a number of tribes were working on solutions based on Maori unity through intertribal cooperation. Such efforts underpinned Maori efforts in the 1880s and 1890s to get real powers for their representative committees. These 'federal' Maori unification movements have generically, and sometimes specifically, been known as kotahitanga. Some sought to emulate and complement the Crown's parliamentary system, an aim mostly associated with tribes which had a history of co-operation with the Crown. It was partly because collaboration had less value for the Crown once the wars were over that such tribes sought to enhance their influence by increasing their pan-tribal critical mass. In 1879 Te Arawa tribes established a 'Great Committee' with the potential to expand beyond their region. That year too a meeting to discuss the establishment of a Maori parliament (based on komiti) was hosted by Ngati Whatua at Orakei. In 1881 'Te Komiti o Te Tiriti o Waitangi' was set up at Waitangi, with its own parallel authorities and annual meetings.

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In 1886, the year Tawhiao asked the government to agree to a 'Council of Chiefs', the Crown had deemed the colony's inhabitants — Maori and pakeha — to have finally been 'pacified'. State-desired modes of social behaviour were assessed as having been generally accepted by most citizens. The state authorities, therefore, saw no need to alter existing constitutional arrangements. Maori pressure increased, especially after intertribal hui in 1888-9 began preparations for a 'Maori union at Waitangi' that could make decisions on matters relevant to all Maori. Progress was co-ordinated from 1890 by northern iwi regarded as guardians of the Treaty, to which kotahitanga looked for its mandate. At the beginning of the new decade, various large pan-tribal meetings indicated that the demand for a separate Maori authority had spread out far beyond Kingitanga. Such instincts for unity resulted partly from Maori alarm at the demographic data which had caused pakeha to believe they were a dying race. Even those many Maori who did not believe their race would physically disappear were aware that united action was needed if the Crown and settler goal of full cultural assimilation was to be resisted.

In 1892 a hui at Te Tiriti o Waitangi marae in the Bay of Islands agreed to build on many precursor meetings and networks and formally establish the unity movement Te Kotahitanga o Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Unity of the Treaty of Waitangi, to be headed by a parliament. Its main purpose was to procure the honouring of the Treaty promise of rangatiratanga, tying this especially to retention of the remaining land-base. One of its platforms, for example, was abolition ofthe Native Land Court in favour of 'native committees' more sensitive to Maori needs and wants. But its bid was essentially for parallel state institutions within the New Zealand colonial nation-state. The main Kotahitanga method for achieving this, as the parliament's first Speaker was to say, would be strength through unity ofthe tribes from 'the four winds'. Without unity of the tribes, Maori aspirations would be treated as 'the murmuring of the wind'.29

In response to such strengthened politico-racial assertion, in the last decade of the century the state became more averse than ever to Maori unification. This it saw not only as a threat to its plans to alienate the bulk of remaining Maori-owned land, but also to its sovereign authority. page 37Both land and sovereignty were key factors in a refrigeration-based technological drive to 'recolonise' New Zealand as an essential supplier of the Mother Country's meat and dairy products. What had only half a century before been nominally independent 'Aotearoa' would now become the most loyal, if most distant, outpost of empire. In this 'Better Britain', in effect, assimilation was deemed to have occurred almost by definition. In 1892 it was announced that the Native Department was to be abolished; in the following year 'Maori became amenable to the ordinary legal machinery of the land'.

With Maori now placed under the same jurisdiction as pakeha, the Native Land Court and related state bodies remained the sole agencies dealing specifically with Maori matters. A royal commission later noted that, in terms of legal issues, by the end of the nineteenth century the question of separate institutions for Maori 'had been settled, if not resolved. Except in respect of Maori land and certain related matters, the Maori people were to be governed almost completely by the English derived law.' In terms of Crown actions, then, the very opposite to endorsing rangatiratanga had occurred.30

At the time, both state and settler pronouncements remained full of optimism about the full assimilation of Maori. This merged into an opinion in even the most 'progressive' of pakeha thinkers that, in the 1901 words of the President of the National Council of Women, 'Maori and pakeha have become one people'. At the very least there was a firm belief that the disappearance of Maori separatism, if not of Maori culture or 'bloodlines', was nigh. One of the Native Department's last statements, in the colony's 1892 Official Handbook, predicted that the 'so-called Maori King' had been tamed as a result of his acceptance of a government pension. 'This is looked upon as an auspicious event, and it is hoped that it will lead to the end of the "King movement", which, although it has lost much of its former power, has, nevertheless by its existence, tended to maintain an isolation injurious to both races.'

But it was in this very year, alongside Kingitanga's revivalist strategising, that kotahitanga tribes with a history of support for (or at least non-opposition to) the Crown finally established a Maori Parliament. The new institution provided another forum for pan-tribal Maori opinion page 38and action aimed at holding the remaining Maori land, among other matters. But in this and the various regrouping and fight-back efforts to resist assimilation, the push for a form of authorised parallel government was the key feature. Unity-based organisational assertion has persisted to the present. But unity has not usually been the ultimate aim. In a tribally rooted society, the push for unity generally represented away of achieving a goal rather than itself constituting the goal. The Maori aim was always Crown recognition of their right to run 'their own' affairs without state interference.31

While Maori were deemed sufficiently subject by 1886 to hegemonic norms for the Crown to be generally satisfied with the state of social order, the fact remained that almost all Maori had resisted full assimilation. But Maori had still to grapple with the fact that, assuming the official 'best case' scenario did not eventuate — that Maori did not fade away altogether as a physically present 'race' — total assimilation remained the Crown and pakeha aspiration. A Member of Parliament would put the matter succinctly: 'The objective of a good Native policy should be the Europeanising of the Maori.' Even indigenous bids for 'loyal self-determination' had been perceived as too much of a threat to the sanctity of the Crown and the settler capitalism it represented. Indeed, in the 1890s Kotahitanga was in the Crown's eyes a bigger problem than Kingitanga, even though it tended to be based in tribes which had been considered allies or neutrals.

Such hostility to a relatively 'friendly' grouping indicated the depth of the problem from a Maori perspective, and the firmness of purpose Maori needed. The numbers backing the unity method rose. The movement was particularly spurred on by increasing awareness of the Liberal government's determination to get pakeha 'small farmers' onto the land. The implication from the beginning was that this would be at least partly at the expense of what was left of the tribal patrimony, despite much rhetoric about 'bursting up' the big pakeha estates; as events turned out, it was mostly at Maori expense.

The Kotahitanga movement would centre on the deliberations of its annual Maori Parliament/Paremata Maori. At its first meeting at Waipatu in June 1892, with typical Maori capacity for adaptation it took on the page 39contours and procedures of the 'pakeha parliament'. An elaborate structure of (tribally based) electorates, prime minister and ministerial portfolios was created at central level. Organisational networks would report or relate to it — anetwork of marae-based women's committees (NgaKomiti Wahine), for example, was responsible for 'overseeing and attending to general health and well-being'.

During a decade-long attempt to gain official recognition as a complement, or at the very least a supplement, to the 'Wellington Parliament', the Maori Parliament sought legislative autonomy on the basis of the Treaty's second article. It also cited section 71 of the 1852 Constitution Act, whose provisions for discrete (and intended to be temporary) 'Native Districts' had never been taken up. While it had a loyalist base, Kotahitanga embodied an unprecedented degree of Maori unity, and it worked diligently to 'show how parallel institutions might work in New Zealand'. Because of such success it even gained the cooperation of (though not merging with) the Kingitanga.32

The Urewera experiment

The settler state could not have contemplated any kind of parallel power at national level. But had it been serious about addressing at least some Maori aspirations at a regional level it could have done so under the 1852 legislation. This enabled some form of regional or tribal self-government in areas that remained remote from pakeha settlement. The Crown's concessions to a Maori autonomy movement independent of the unity organisation were greatest for the isolated Urewera people, whose attempts to preserve their independence were long-standing and determined. At a Tuhoe tribal gathering in 1894, Chief Numia Kereru confirmed to Premier R J Seddon that his tribe did not want the 'temporary prosperity' that came with the selling of land that was inevitable after the individualising of tenure. Instead, it wanted to continue to manage its tribal land and political affairs collectively through its own structures. In gauging how genuine the Crown's concessions were, the Premier's reply is instructive. It repeated the long-standing state policy on autonomy: if Tuhoe was asking that tribal committees page 40could have law-making powers, they could not.

But regular police and military expeditions to the Urewera to deter ongoing tribal disruption to surveys were too expensive for an area that could produce no short-term economic gains. And so the imposition of substantive sovereignty needed to be suspended. This created a problem for Crown-defined 'order and regularity' in arugged area where, within living memory, the 'infamous rebel chief' Te Kooti Arikirangi had operated. State-iwi negotiations resulted in 1895 in a modus vivendi that partially reflected ideas generated by an earlier commission. Local land block committees with specified powers would be established, and would elect an umbrella organisation, the Komiti Nui o Tuhoe/General Committee, to handle region-wide matters. The Crown agreed that the government would survey only with the concurrence of the tribes and the Native Land Court would be excluded from the region. Instead, seven 'Commissioners' (five of them tribespeople) would deal with land ownership matters under customary law and certificates of ownership, and the general committee alone would be able to alienate land (and then only to the Crown).

The resulting Urewera District Native Reserve Act of 1896, establishing some 650,000 acres of the Urewera as areserve under Maori 'local government', seemed to be a significant precedent for the concession of rangatiratanga. But, as noted by the leading politician of mixed-race descent, James Carroll, this development could occur only because no significant state or settler interests were involved at that time. In return, moreover, the government gained Tuhoe's recognition of the mana of the British Queen and all tribal powers under the Act were devolved and constrained by the Crown. The state intended that in due course it would impose on the Urewera all the 'responsibilities and liabilities' of the other citizens of New Zealand. As the parliamentary opposition noted, the legislation was designed to be the thin end of the wedge for settlement and exploitation of timber and other resources, and for the 'civilising' of Maori that would follow. From the very point when Tuhoe consented to have their lands surveyed as part of the agreement, the tribe began to lose its authority vis a vis the Crown.33

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The trend towards unification

Meanwhile, with the Crown refusing to give the Paremata Maori any official recognition, the unity movement tended to operate as an unofficial state within a state. While different from the King Country and Urewera territory-based unofficial states, it nevertheless carried out state-like functions, including the capacity to coerce. Like the Ringatu Church (founded by Te Kooti), Kingitanga and other pan-tribal and tribal organisations before it, the Kotahitanga district committees produced their own laws and attempted to enforce them through pirihimanatanga/policing regimes. These were runanga-based organisations, some with professional police paid from tribally imposed fines.

From one perspective the Crown appreciated their minimising of disorder, with their control of liquor consumption, patrolling functions and tasks such as keeping order at marae. But it was not prepared to contemplate the existence of local governance regimes that were loyal primarily to a 'national' organisation unsanctioned by the colony's political executive and implicitly posing a threat to indivisible sovereign power. Yet the Maori Parliament movement could not be ignored, especially when almost half of Maoridom signed a petition in support of its aims. The Crown became still more concerned when the loose alliance between the Maori Parliament and King movements began to form.

Both had begun to experiment with securing a voice in the colonial Parliament with the election of Hone Heke (1893) and Henare Kaihau (1896) as MPs. This had, if nothing else, considerable publicity value. The former, for example, introduced draft legislation to devolve power to the Maori Parliament, and the latter promoted a Bill aimed at removing the Native Land Court and establishing a 'Maori Council' under the auspices of the Maori King. These measures were acceptable neither to many tribes nor to the Crown, but through such devices Kotahitanga and Kingitanga procured political discussions and negotiations. The Crown responded to the unity movements' potentially potent strategy of combining 'protest and co-operation' by seeking accommodation with them. The state's aim had always been encapsulated in the words of the colony's first leader, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, that 'we page 42are now one people'. It now saw, in effect, that full realisation of its assimilationist 'dream' would have to be further deferred. In seeking meanwhile to maximise its own interests, the Crown searched for a solution that would not only deflect Maori aspirations into something anodyne, but would actually advance the assimilationist agenda. It believed it had found this in 1900.34