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



Meanwhile, until Labour could gain office, Ngataism rather than Ratanaism prevailed as the voice of Maori in high councils of state. Long after its institutional demise, the Young Maori Party had continued in the form of the Ngataist movement. However amorphous this was, it did focus intensely, as Ngata later put it, on 'the one goal, the conscious adjustment of Maori society in all its elements to the changed conditions and standards of life'. But it also increasingly emphasised the preservation of 'suitable' aspects of Maori culture. The initial downgrading of tribalism page 147in Ngataist circles gradually gave way to an emphasis on marshalling discrete tribal entities for both general and specific purposes. This amounted to reconfirmation of the kotahitanga method, albeit in a less overtly political and structured way. A kind of pan-tribal 'collaboration' would complement tribal life, helping it adjust to the realities of a capitalist political economy and its hegemonic mores while at the same time promoting certain cultural forms. Even the most accommodationist parts of Maoridom, then, were increasingly declaring that complete assimilation was neither desirable nor irresistible. Progress would come from a 'judicious' selection and combination of 'elements of Western and Maori culture'.

Carroll had urged: 'Hold fast to your Maoritanga'. The tribally based approach of 'informal pan-tribal co-operation' generally came to be characterised by this rubric. Some Maori later saw all types of pan-tribalism as Crown-inspired replacements for failed 'divide and rule' policies. '[I]f you cannot divide and rule, then for tribal people all you can do is to bring them together and rule … because then they lose everything by losing their own tribal identity and histories and traditions.' Others have viewed Maoritanga's stress on Maori culture as a state-encouraged seeking of a 'safe' alternative to a politically organised or threatening Maori population. But in the 1920s and 1930s the Ngataist leadership portrayed an informally organised Maoritanga as a way of retaining all manner of tribally based forms and practices that were deemed worthy of preservation.

These would constitute a foundation not for the disappearance of organised Maoridom, but for a modern Maori reconstruction, and aspects of this were not fully to the Crown's liking.

Several informal, tribally based unifying mechanisms were developing after the First World War, assisted by improvements in transport and communications. These moves towards co-operative advancement of tangata whenua interests were so pronounced that it is possible to talk of a significant 'renaissance' among Maori in the 1920s. Maori who had served overseas and acquired a fresh outlook during the war were particularly active in revival movements which stressed working together on as broad a basis as a tribal foundation would allow. Activities included intertribal hui to work out joint agreements on consolidation schemes, page 148increasing contact between tribes at sports gatherings, cultural exchanges in various locations, arts and craft revivals. In 1928, for example, the Prince of Wales Rugby Cup competition was established within Maoridom. A series of intertribal hui culminated in a grand celebration of Maori arts on Waitangi Day in 1934 that aimed to strengthen links between Maori communities.90

In some of the developments of the 1920s, European ways were melded with tribal and pan-tribal approaches. A Maori leader commented that the 'spirit of the new movement is intensely Maori, even though externally it is adopting a pakeha guise and outlook'. This aided state tolerance of, and even assistance for, some developments. The Crown's aversion to formal political unity of the tribes could be accommodated by the looseness of the unifying mechanisms, despite some continuing unease that such arrangements could encourage the indigenous search for empowerment. Indeed, the state saw positive virtue in some loose, pan-tribal developments. In the 1920s it began to endorse and enhance their culture-based initiatives in an attempt to channel Maori energies in a 'safe' direction, away from political radicalism — especially Ratanaism.

Endorsement and assistance were not without difficulties for the Crown. Its establishment (following an approach by the Maori MPs to Coates) of the Maori Secondary Schools Aid Fund in 1922, of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research in 1923, and of the Maori Purposes Fund (to finance educational, community and cultural activities, such as building meeting houses) in 1924, all exemplified this. While these measures utilised unclaimed monies in the hands of the Maori Land Boards, and therefore cost the Crown little, they were nevertheless an implicit acknowledgement that rapid movement towards assimilation remained far away. In fact, state excursions into funding Maori cultural, educational and social activities, encouraged by Ngataism, helped foster a sense of separate identity for Maori — or Maoritanga. All the same, this was seen in state circles as preferable to other possibilities, especially Ratanaist ones.

In Coates' ministry, Ngataist influence increased enormously and, with it, state assistance for manifestations of Maoritanga. After much pressure, including Maori representations channelled through the page 149Ethnological Research institution, and considerable Crown consultation with Maori bodies, a 1926 Act established a board to encourage Maori arts and craft. The School of Maori Arts and Crafts at Rotorua followed in 1927, in conjunction with Te Arawa's trust board, and became heavily involved in adapting Maori cultural practices to hegemonic social conditions as a precondition for their strong survival.

To ensure that the Crown's perspective remained to the forefront of such developments, Coates charged the Native Department with social and cultural functions. The Ngataist approach, with modernisation proceeding hand in hand with preservation of the best of iwi-and hapu-based customs and the tribes coming together informally to pursue this, was seen by most pro-Maori pakeha observers as the way forward for Maori renaissance. They were soon waxing optimistic about 'hope of reconstruction' for Maoridom. One academic felt that both state and Maori were ensuring that 'aims' were 'clearly visioned' and 'problems' being 'courageously attacked'. He applauded the Young Maori Party-style leadership for resisting 'the superimposition of a highly-organised culture from above' on their people. Instead they were, at least for the moment, seeking to 'lay a basis for life's structure upon Maori mana' and doing so with the help of the Crown — which in turn could guide Maori energies towards appropriate modes of 'progress'. When Ngata, Pomare and Te Rangihiroa launched an offensive against Ratanaism in Wanganui in 1927, it was part of a bid to co-ordinate all 'progressive' forces in Maoridom.

That support for 'Maori progressiveness' within pakehadom came from the Prime Minister down, however, had aroused the suspicions of even Maori outside the Ratana fold. Some of them, in due course, changed their minds when they saw what could be achieved by working with 'the system'. By 1928 Ngata was able to argue that 'some of our aims and ideals' were being fulfilled. When he was installed in the ministerial seat that year, it was not just land development which benefited. For the first time a senior Maori politician within the western system who was fully committed to Maoridom was able to bring sizeable Crown resources to bear on many aspects of the lives of his people. These had a generally positive impact on tribal life, right down to the local level. Ngata argued page 150tirelessly with MPs and bureaucrats for the principle that Maori, through their leaders, should have greater control of their own funds, lands and lives. His powers to deploy state resources among the tribes were strengthened when that part of the civil service that reported to him became, in 1930, indisputably 'the ultimate corporate entity for regulating and controlling Maori affairs'. This situation provided invaluable support for Ngata's 'brilliant strategy of subversive co-operation'.91