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

Political movements

Political movements

Many of the iwi which had attempted to work with the Crown-provided machinery pursued their interests through the land-oriented institutions. Enthusiasm waned rapidly, particularly as land alienation picked up speed. Large numbers of Maori had appreciated early on that working through Crown bodies, while apparently enabling self-determination, did little to advance rangatiratanga. Most iwi soon generally disengaged from 'collaboration' as a strategy, concentrating their flax-roots energies on their own rather than on the official komiti. In particular, they came to emphasise the politico-cultural interests of the collectivity. But there was a myriad of opinions on the appropriate way forward.

As early as 1904, some Maori organisations were discernibly turning from the idea of 'special legislation', which already seemed to be expediting their dispossession, to a demand for equal rights with pakeha. Once they had achieved these, their intention was to use them to maximise tribal advantage. Some sought Maori unity in their search for equality between the races, such as the well-supported 'Maori Association', founded at Wanganui in 1908. Others continued to campaign to be free to sell (or lease) land to whomever they wished, in the belief that market prices would provide them with resources to achieve their goals. Some, including senior chiefs, saw solidarity with pakeha workers as a way forward, and among other things supported the 1913 'great strike' against the state.64

A more immediate challenge to pursuit of rangatiratanga through a special relationship with the state, however, came from those who felt that preservation of their 'race' lay in going some way towards accommodating Crown policies aimed at assimilation. On the fringes of the Young Maori Party there remained people who even supported almost total assimilation. Pomare was convinced that Taranaki Maori were 'reactionary' to continue seeking restoration of confiscated lands, urged collaborative endeavour, and campaigned against the 'separatist' goals of page 94the regional prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi. While the prophets' grand pan-tribal dreams had been physically suppressed by the New Zealand Constabulary Force at Parihaka in 1881, their movement had quickly revived (including, as previously noted, in the Chathams).

Contemporary pakeha commentators believed that the deaths of these two politico-spiritual leaders in 1907 symbolised the end of significant Maori protest and heralded total assimilation to the pakeha political economy: 'The rapid absorption of the native race is inevitable.' But even Pomare, whose own interpretation was close to this, took the opportunity to organise a Maori-only body as a means of achieving assimilationist 'progress'. His 'Maori Union' sought a base for concrete gains by working towards the return of leased land for use by its Maori owners. Along with the Maori Association, it became the dominant Maori movement for a short time. But it foundered when people appreciated the full extent of Pomare's collaborative agenda. When he sought to enter Parliament to further such aims, the vehicle he used was Reform, the most conservative of the parties.

After 1905, however, with a revival of political protest and other developments in the quest for autonomy, the proponents of self-determination were to discover that most Young Maori Party leaders and cadres were not antagonistic to them. Indeed, the Young Maori Party/Ngataist milieu was positively favourable to some of their aims, especially the preservation of Maori culture. As will be seen, it would come to support a number of methods and goals mooted and attempted, from time to time, at local, regional and national levels.

The quest for rangatiratanga was both complex and continuous. This has generally been downplayed, even in 'sympathetic' literature. When a chronicler of kotahitanga, after covering the failure of the 1900 experiments to produce autonomy, leaps straight to the Second World War era, this has the effect of cloaking the determination and resourcefulness of the iwi in the decades between. Kingitanga leaders had early tested the Crown's intentions. Their tribes had engaged with 1900's new institutions, Henare Kaihau had taken up a Maori Land Council seat, and from 1903 King Mahuta had accepted positions on the Executive and Legislative Councils. But they had quickly reverted to page 95pursuing a non-statised rangatiratanga, united in the belief that the future lay in their own hands rather than with the Crown's bureaucracy.

The permanent head of the Native Department would later note that for decades 'the Waikato people were averse to anything and everything connected with the Government', including even state assistance for health and unemployment. The 'Kingmaker' grouping, indeed, continued to pursue the full Kingitanga programme for the first three decades of the century. In response to the initial decision to experiment with the new institutions, Kingmaker Tupu Taingakawa had organised a Kingite sector which demanded immediate return of confiscated lands and untrammelled self-government. At a hui at Waahi in 1907, moreover, a new movement inside Kingitanga, Te Kotahitanga Maori Motuhake, was launched. It was depicted as a revival of Kotahitanga and legitimated by citing Kingism's forging of links with the rival unity movement in the 1890s.

Mainstream Kingism, despite its general 'withdrawal' from participation in Crown activities, continued to deal with the government in pursuit of its struggle. Mahuta and others formed the Maori Rights Conservation Association in 1906 and, after considerable representation, land distribution was discussed with the Crown and some land was eventually regained as a base for tribal rebuilding. Believing that such dealings were locking Kingitanga into the state, rather than liberating it, the new Kotahitanga movement distanced itself and continued to promote rangatiratanga uncompromisingly.

Its subsequent creation of the 'Federation of the Maori People of the North and South Islands of New Zealand' indicates the grandness of its plans. The movement demanded full autonomy under the Treaty of Waitangi. It garnered the support of some traditional Kingite elements, and even Te Rata, crowned king after Mahuta's death in 1912, was sympathetic. Owing to differing views on what was achievable in the foreseeable future, however, organisational unity proved a chimera. After long deliberations on how best to fill the gap left by the Paremata Maori's self-immolation, Kingism reconstituted the Kauhanganui in 1919 at Ngaruawahia. Its meetings focused on attaining a distinct identity for Maori, with a view to strengthened advocacy before the New Zealand page 96Parliament. But its base remained essentially within the Tainui confederation and it could not gain unified Maori support for its strategies to achieve autonomy.

In any case, formal unity had been tried and failed. For the moment, iwi, hapu and other groupings would concentrate on maximising their own tribal independence within a context of informal pan-tribal activities, links and consultations. They would, for example, get together from time to time through intertribal hui. These could be hosted by remnants of formal unity organisations, or be a one-off invitation by a tribe; they could occur ad hoc at an important ceremonial or other gathering, or be convened under the umbrella of Maori Council general conferences – using, for example, the Kotahitanga facilities that had been centralised at Papawai in the Wairarapa.65

The 'retreat' to seeking a tribally based autonomy in the context of loose intertribal association and interaction was designed to avoid the factors which had led to, at best, a very temporary and partial success for previous 'go it alone' attempts – be they in association with the Crown (as with the Urewera experiment) or aloof from it. The King Country was a key example of the latter. In effect Kingism had continued to run a 'state within a state' there even after it ceased to be a no-go zone for Crown and pakeha in the 1880s. But this could not be sustained either formally or informally, and interaction with Crown and settlers had practical ramifications.

As part of an agreement with the state to 'open up' the King Country for settlement, for example, tribal leaders had signed a 'sacred pact' with the Crown. It included a liquor regulation regime, under which, with state endorsement, the chiefs would act to prevent the ravages of alcohol on their people. But the Crown transformed this into a prohibitionist 'dry' zone in pursuit of its own view of appropriate 'law and order' in Maori regions. While there was some opposition to the fact that the state decreed and policed the region's liquor regime, the majority of chiefs decided to collaborate in defining and enforcing it. Over time they came to regard what was originally a second-best option as 'their own'. The Licensing Amendment Act passed in 1910 reaffirmed the general embargo on liquor in the King Country and it remained a 'dry' district for decades.

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This and other tribally based liquor-control regimes have been seen as an example of the exercise of rangatiratanga. Were they to take a form antithetical to Crown interests, however, they would be disallowed and if necessary physically suppressed. Where they were acceptable to the Crown, they were often contested within the tribe. In the East Coast tribal region, a prohibitionist liquor regime had been established after Ngata's strictures against excessive alcohol consumption. The Horouta Maori Council was the vehicle, and opponents could thus depict the regime (imposed after a narrow regional polling majority) as an attack on their autonomy. In the name of indigenous rights, they campaigned to abolish prohibition, seeing its implementers as lackeys of the Crown in applying a definition of 'order and regularity' in Maori regions that differed from that in settler regions. An opposition haka denounced the various impositions of the state but focused on liquor regulation. Ngata was depicted as 'the man/Who keeps coming from Wellington'. This was followed by an aggressive: 'Ahaha!/Show me your laws!/Show me your laws!/Ahaha!/Rating laws!/Council laws!/The Prohibition!/I want whisky/But it's been sold to the dead!/Bloody bugger!/Slave!'

Frequent petitions and other East Coast initiatives argued that allowing Ngati Porou communities to regulate their own liquor consumption was preferable to its prohibition by the state. But the Crown did not provide the tribe with an opportunity to revisit its decision until 1922, following which the regime was dismantled. Meanwhile, an apparently autonomist tribal structure reflecting the wishes of the leadership had been taken under the wing of the state – and turned into a lifestyle straitjacket for many of the tribe. While the Maori liquor regimes appeared to be fully autonomist, the fact remained that they were state-franchised. And, it might be added, such franchises could be withdrawn even against the wishes of the tribal leadership, as would later happen in the King Country.66