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

Politics and land

Politics and land

Such sacrifice did not, however, lead to immediate Crown concessions. Indeed, the acquisition of Maori land went on apace. Herries' push for speedy alienation actually increased under pressure from land speculators as the war was drawing to a close. Extra land was needed for the rehabilitation of soldiers, as well as for general post-war reconstruction. But, in the long run, the indigenous war contribution did help lead to the state's addressing Maori causes. This was not from any sentiment of 'gratitude', as historians have been wont to suggest. Had policy been driven by grateful politicians, one might have expected (at the very least) that the state would have assisted rehabilitation for Maori ex-soldiers to the same extent as it did for pakeha returnees. This was not the case. To take the crucial matter of livelihood, while in theory the allocation of farms through balloting was equal among all returned servicemen, in reality few Maori were assisted in this way.

Ngataist legislation of 1916 had provided for Maoridom to assist its returned servicemen in land-based rehabilitation. This was a new means of keeping Maori land in indigenous ownership, and therefore of promoting land-based rangatiratanga. But it had been introduced in a page 109context of Maori appreciation that their interests were unlikely to prevail within the state, and that the best they could do was to procure legislative assistance for taking on the major burden themselves. In fact, by 1917 Maori leaders so doubted the government's intentions that they set up the Maori Patriotic Committee to raise funds among their people for their ex-servicemen. In the event, this organisation had to abandon the plan to help returnees gain farms, opting instead for purchasing a handful of stations whose income could be used for relief purposes. This was another blow to the possibility of enhancing the land base of Maoridom. The perceived disloyalty to 'New Zealand' among some elements of Maoridom, moreover, had served to reinforce stereotypes about the danger to the socio-political fabric of the state from collective expressions of indigenousness. The difficulties caused to the Crown by Maunga-pohatu's rival sovereignty and Kingitanga's political stance, in particular, reinforced its determination to not to alter its attitude to political autonomy.

But some state concessions to Maori were to emerge in due course in the context of greater pakeha public acceptance of Maori following their war effort. These related, however, to 'national goals'. Maori had proved to be of use in 'defending' the scientifically farmed, pakeha-governed New Zealand in which they were ultimately destined to become absorbed as 'brown-skinned Europeans'. The Maori fighting effort had reminded the authorities, at a time when the international and domestic ramifications of war had widened the horizons of possibility for Maori, that it was preferable to have the tangata whenua as satisfied as possible, or at least not too dissatisfied. The social, financial and other costs of the invasion of Rua's headquarters had been a chastening example of the difficulties of subduing even the core of a movement comprising only a thousand followers. There was a feeling that, while autonomist developments would be encouraged if any concessions to self-determination were made, they might be circumvented by addressing rangatiratanga in a lower-key way.

After the war, then, the state reconsidered its generally hard line against Maori aspirations for better access to and use of resources. Expedience assisted its decision making. The Crown could, for example, cease to concentrate its Maori policy energies on alienating land, as more or less page 110sufficient had now been acquired — enough, even, for resettling pakeha returned servicemen. The head of the Native Department summed this up in declaring that it would be reasonable for Maori 'to retain the small area remaining to them', so long as they did not become 'a charge on the State'. In 1920 the official calculation was that Maori retained title to well under a million acres 'that may be considered suitable for settlement' (at a time when 62 million acres had been 'acquired' by pakeha). This amounted to an average of 19 acres per Maori, barely enough for self-sustenance let alone for other purposes.

Much of the land which had remained only two decades before, then, had by this time disappeared, despite the Crown's ostensible commitment to preservation in 1900. The official analysis, tellingly, assumed that the more than three million acres leased to Europeans would 'never return to the occupation of the Native owners'. A land-purchase scenario that risked escalating Maori landlessness or marginalisation, which were seen as potential drains on state resources, was not in the national interest. While purchasing did not totally stop, the state now interpreted the public good as requiring improved Maori productivity on their remaining land, especially through title reform that would put Maori in a better position to farm.74

But the question of how best to preserve and use the land that was left in Maori hands would increasingly tax both Maori and the state. Ngata and other 'modernising' Maori leaders had long sought ways of providing their people with the means to develop their lands for 'scientific' farming. They appreciated several imperatives. The most important, and the truism of the time, can be seen in the Young Maori Party acknowledgement that '[o]nly those lands which the Maoris themselves will usefully occupy will remain or be allowed to remain to them'. But they also emphasised the significance of retaining communal initiative and organisation in relation to the land. In this way, not only could productivity rise through the skills of those individuals engaged in farming, but Maori culture would be encouraged to survive and evolve.

Ngata had set out long before to promote economic and social revival on the East Coast. He intended to demonstrate that this was viable through collective endeavour. After his election to Parliament, he had urged Ngati page 111Porou farmers to create incorporations to develop large areas of multiply owned land. The incorporation was (in the words of an official inquiry) 'a private company the fractions of ownership in which correspond to the shares in the block or blocks of Maori freehold land' concerned. Its management 'block committees', elected by the shareholders, had the legal right to 'act for all the owners in farming, selling or leasing blocks of Maori land'. Ngata advised incorporated collective owners to lease out only part of the land, with committees of management organising the farming of the rest by tribespeople. The law allowed for tribal involvement, and chiefs were often represented on the management committees.

Moreover, from 1911 Ngati Porou had expanded its productivity plans, with provisions in the 1909 Native Land Act to be used for trail-blazing work on the consolidating of individualised shares. Painstaking work had begun on amalgamating the separate interests that any one person, family or related group owned in various fragmented blocks after Native Land Court rulings. Land to the appropriate value was to be consolidated as a single economic unit, allowing agricultural development to occur more easily.

Along with (an interrelated) tribal resurgence, this pioneering land-tenure reorganisation had helped revive the Maori economy on the East Coast. Ngati Porou was generally seen as the most successful farming tribe, and downstream factors such as renewal of pride in iwi membership and a healthy population increase were noted. The tribal leaders' objective had always been socio-tribal: hapu and whanau reconstruction, iwi strength, removal of justification for pakeha acquisition of 'idle Maori land', and (in the words of a later official report) 'full production for the benefit of the race' as well as of 'the Dominion in general'. By the post war period, even the most pro-western of the Young Maori Party core members were reconsidering their previous enthusiasm for in-depth assimilation to European ways. Te Rangihiroa, having advocated individualisation of farming in a 1906 report, was by this time engaged in an intellectual journey that would end in vigorous opposition to it.

For him and others, the much-vaunted success of incorporation and consolidation on the East Coast constituted a significant factor along the page 112way. It showed that in 'modernisation' the law could be used to preserve many of the traditional customs and lifestyle of Maori. Acutely aware of Crown as well as Maori perceptions, Ngata had known that in state eyes the problem with his tenurial and managerial reforms was that they did potentially foster communalism. He had thus proceeded cautiously, so much so that he hoped ultimately to get substantial state assistance. While stressing the downstream benefits for tribes from consolidation, for example, he also argued that it was the best solution to politico-bureaucratic worries over Maori land productivity.

The Crown had other reasons, too, for seeing 'public' advantages in consolidation. The process could make it easier, for example, once the Crown had purchased a 'strategic' mass of shares in a given area, to acquire usable blocks for on-sale to pakeha farmers. However, it came to see the force in Ngata's argument that Maori could often usefully farm on post-consolidation blocks, too. So long as the Maori-farmed consolidated units were not so communalised as to pose a conceptual threat to a Europeanised way of life, their productivity could contribute to the national economy — or, at the very least, subsistence farming could help keep people from the need to access state welfare coffers. It was the Ngati Porou experiment, in fact, which had helped embolden the Crown to sponsor large-scale model consolidation measures in the Urewera-the region still seen to need 'taming' despite the continued whittling away of its supposed autonomy. Imposing pakehaised 'order and regularity' on the Urewera could be achieved partly through the better economic base (for both Maori and pakeha) that would result from tenure restructuring.

The results of such consolidation experiments in the Urewera were so positive that the Crown was willing to sponsor similar exercises elsewhere. Gordon Coates, Native Minister from March 1921, was especially enthusiastic. The path was smoothed by the general acceptance by Native Land Court judges of Ngata's consolidation (and incorpor ation) guidelines in 1922. The Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Act in the following year not only rational ised all legislation on land consolidation, but also authorised the minister (rather than the Governor-General) to approve projected schemes. In page 1131924 consolidation became firmly entrenched in government policy.

After their expansion from 1926, consolidation schemes would extend as far as Northland. Meanwhile, their validity was hotly contested among Maoridom. While some saw them as enabling rangatiratanga, others saw them as compromising or negating it. On the one hand, in the Urewera transactions, for example, the state's commissioners defined the con solidated form of the interests the Crown had purchased. Many non-sellers would be deprived of their ancestral connections with specific portions of land, which might include the best farming lands or areas of cultural and tribal significance to them. Whatever the overall benefits for Maori touted by the Young Maori Party, state-generated consolidation trampled on the rights of many Maori individuals and collectivities. On the other hand, compact, family-based farming units would benefit non-sellers through productivity gains. Less measurably, the fact that some tribespeople would remain on land within tribal boundaries/rohe meant a continuing base for socio-cultural pursuits.

Many Maori argued that rangatiratanga which resulted from Crown action was scarcely rangatiratanga at all. Moreover, it was noted that the state sponsored consolidation only where it assessed that it could promote what it defined as the interests of 'the country'. The consolidation schemes were established essentially to benefit the government and its settler constituency, not Maori — although Maori could gain from them, and many undoubtedly did. Primarily, consolidation made it easier for the state to carry out strategic purchasing of interests in desired areas. There were also spin-off effects, such as reducing the problem of rates left unpaid due to ownership fragmentation. The Crown became increasingly involved in consolidation, then, as the various benefits became clearer.

Consolidation also added to the gains from incorporation, which Maori leaders had seen as a good way of collectively organising productivity on land with fragmented title. A Carroll measure of 1903 had first focused on incorporation for farming purposes, and Maori had increasingly used it to improve their farming prospects and their collective aspirations, with Ngati Porou leading the way. 'By this device', wrote an historian looking back at its facilitation of Maori farming over several decades, 'the Maori tribal system could itself be used to put authority into the page 114hands of some individual [or group able to farm the land efficiently] without infringing community rights'. Consolidation was another method, for some Maori collectivities, to own land legally in a 'traditional communal way', even though title had been divided into individual shares by the Native Land Court.

Dividends from incorporations' profits could be used for cultural purposes as well as to provide income. In fact, much original Maori support for the idea had been because the management committees would be hapu-based; many were indeed centred on tribal groupings of some nature, and some were dominated by chiefs. Once again, parliamentary mechanisms to alienate and decollectivise had been used by Maori to further their collective interests. As this contributed to national productivity and therefore to the 'public good', it was tolerated by the Crown.75