State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950
Mediation and legislation
Mediation and legislation
The Crown, while refusing official recognition of the Kotahitanga Parliament, tolerated it so long as it did not explicitly claim to impinge on British sovereign rights. But even Kotahitanga's mildest request, for a Maori subsidiary of the 'pakeha parliament', was considered an implicit challenge to sovereign indivisibility. While by 1899 attendance at the Paremata Maori was declining because of its lack of practical successes, page 48the Crown remained perturbed at mass Maori acceptance of the Kotahitanga demands. Ministers sought a safety valve. It was through the services of Carroll, who rejected autonomy but saw the need to retain some Maori customs and land, that they turned to 'moderate' Maori reformists for ideas and advice.
For some time Ngata, Heke, Tureiti Te Heuheu Tukino and others had taken heed of the Crown's attempts (however desultory) to sanction and make use of 'native committees'. While some influential Maori such as Kaihau continued to press to officialise the Maori Parliament, they had been seeking a more attainable solution, legal status for the committees. Many ideas for this were in the air. In 1896, for example, Ngati Porou advocated 'Maori Committees' with the power to 'keep the peace, observe the law and determine those activities which they feel necessary for their well being'. While from its beginning the Young Maori Party had noted the need to meld Maori and pakeha ways, it had quickly seen an opportunity in many existing Maori demands and in the Urewera experiment. It was soon campaigning, along with some tribes, for local Maori self-government through statutory recognition of the komiti system, and for representative Maori involvement in deciding the future of tribal land. It sought the support of traditional leaders and elders, and organised meetings in Maori pa/villages.39
Given so many past rejections of their aspirations, and the Liberal government's policy of wholesale acquisition of Maori land, large numbers of Maori were suspicious of any watering-down of goals. With persistence, however, the Young Maori Party and their co-thinkers persuaded many Kotahitanga activists that adapting the committee system to the machinery of state was the only demand then viable. In a sense, both Kotahitanga and a newer, younger kotahitanga were beginning to converge over ways of working together for the common Maori good. At the same time, influenced by Carroll and the Young Maori Party, the government was coming to believe that conceding limited self-government and land management might be a controllable and economic way of meeting Maori demands.
This process would not be easy, given European attitudes to indigenous power and the government's resonance with a pakeha electorate that page 49was at best ethnocentric and at worst racist. An Auckland newspaper's reference to 'that inherent detestation of the white races, and especially of British peoples, towards anything which savours of rule by coloured or native races' indicates the depth of the problem. But by 1898 Seddon was willing, on expedient grounds, to consider universalising the principles underpinning the Urewera legislation. While full assimilation was still the aim, the pace — especially on land and political matters — would be in effect slowed or even suspended by such a system. Yet it was also hoped that it would enable acceleration of other facets of assimilation and detribalisation, such as the introduction of western health services, something stressed by Carroll and the Young Maori Party.
While the party acted as mediator with Kotahitanga and other Maori movements, it was Carroll who in turn mediated between it and the Crown. He liaised particularly with Seddon and with Ngata, who was made 'travelling secretary' of TACSA in 1899. While Maori remained generally suspicious of the government, even though (and also because) its overtures were headed by the Premier, the Young Maori Party and its co-thinkers assisted the growing acceptance of a form of devolved local power. Their persuasion was such that at the March 1900 Maori Parliament at Ohinemutu in Rotorua, a subcommittee was selected to draft a Bill for the proposed new institutions. Chaired by Heke with Ngata's assistance, this body reached a unanimous conclusion which was then endorsed by the Paremata Maori. In effect, Kotahitanga had rescinded its minimal demand for official endorsement of a standing national Maori representative body.
The suggested institutions were to be based partly on previous experiments: the 'official runanga' of the 1860s, the Maori Committees of the 1880s, and Crown-tolerated de facto iwi and hapu social control mechanisms among tribes such as Ngati Porou. Since the draft plans provided for state supervision, and in the final analysis state control, of the proposed committees, the government accepted them in principle. Seddon himself introduced into the House of Representatives two Bills, drafted by Carroll and Heke (assisted by Ngata), which embodied the ideas which had emerged within the Kotahitanga fold. One was to do with land (discussed in Chapter Three), and the other politics. During page 50their fine-tuning and passage through the chambers of Parliament the government sought advice from TACSA, and the Bills passed without difficulty and became law in October 1900.40