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



The Council system was, of course, just one example of Maori engagement with Maori issues under Crown auspices. Maori who had chosen to work within and through the state system did gradually get results – economic, health, social and cultural. Many others continued to consider gradualist engagement with pakeha politics and lifestyle to be compromised or ineffective. In addition to Ratanaism, alternative paths were explored, one of which was intra-tribal rebuilding. Such an endeavour could fit in with the Ngataist agenda by boosting the bases for pan-tribal and intertribal developments.

The work of Princess Te Puea in both rebuilding and uniting the Tainui tribes, in particular, was coming to national attention in the late 1920s. From 1927, her position in Kingitanga was consolidated against Tupu Taingakawa's camp. She also promoted her own initiatives for intertribal co-operation. She appreciated that, with the Crown willing page 154to discuss compensation with raupatu tribes, the results could be enhanced by tribal co-operation. As with the Ngataists, accusations of 'selling out' were levelled against Te Puea, her colleagues and others seeking a reconciliatory way forward – on however principled a basis. She was called 'Mrs Kawanatanga', but pressed on regardless. The opening of the Tainui federation's Mahinarangi meeting house at Ngaruawahia in 1929 provided the occasion for the first national hui to be held in the Waikato. Goals for Maoridom and methods of attaining them were much discussed among its 6000 attendees.

While Kingitanga's Tainui focus was often seen in state and pakeha circles as relentless pursuit of tribally based rangatiratanga, and Te Puea's encouragement of intertribal contact and co-operation as containing unificatory dangers, the Crown preferred such developments to the political radicalism of Ratana. It believed that the 'steady and purposive re-organisation and co-ordination' sought by many tribally based Maori could be made to work towards the 'national good'. While it would of necessity encompass some self-determinationist aspirations, these were assessed to fall far short of the considerable degree of autonomy implied by Ratanaism. The state needed to attend to tribal and intertribal wishes more assiduously, in fact, to ensure that such energies were channelled in officially desired directions.

In 1928 Coates had left a memorandum for the incoming Ward government that the quicker settlements were reached with Maori over historical grievances, the sooner that 'feeling of silent resentment and passive resistance to progressive movements' which prevailed among 'backward' tribes would dissipate. The state, viewing trust boards as the best (though not perfect) 'compromise' between tribal control and accountability to the Crown, was not averse to establishing more and providing them with reparations-based or other resources. The problem for the Crown was to work out both the amount of resources that should be conceded to tribes deemed eligible, and how to ensure safeguards for its own interests.

The most unjustly treated tribal grouping of all, the Sim Commission had declared, was the Taranaki iwi. It was Native Minister Ngata, using a threat of resignation in the context of the 1930 Western Maori by page 155election (following Pomare's death), who got negotiations with the Taranaki federation moving. 'Native matters should not take a back seat all the time', he asserted. On the one hand, politicians and bureaucrats (especially Treasury officials) had been comfortable with neither the concept of an annuity nor the annual sum recommended by Sim. On the other hand, the tribes had sought return of confiscated land, or at the very least an interim settlement of £10,000 a year. It was a Ngataist compromise which emerged as the interim solution, in the face of the Treasury's preference for a lump sum: the annual sum to be administered by the trust board was that recommended by the Sim Commission, £5000.

Even if the state saw annual payments as compensation, tribes and Ngataists viewed them as ongoing acknowledgement of past wrongs to their rangatiratanga – in addition to, or perhaps until, restoration of a satisfactory economic base. As the tribes expected, while annuities did strengthen their revival efforts, these were insufficient to provide a platform for strong resurgence of tribal politico-economic power. The Taranaki groupings used their state-funded office to continue to press for a final settlement that could provide a base strong enough to enable significant tribal rebuilding. The board sought a payment of £10,000 in perpetuity in recognition of 'the sin' of raupatu, the return of land as partial recompense for the raupatu and re-establishment of its relationship with the Crown under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Immersed in economic depression, the Crown did not even fully pay what it owed the Taranaki board in the first year of the settlement. But at least an interim settlement of a raupatu grievance had been achieved, and this gave other tribes some hope of negotiating a deal that would involve resources and some control over them. The other major raupatu tribal federation, Tainui, sought parity with any final Taranaki settlement as a bottom line, despite the Sim Commission's recommendation that it should receive a lesser annual amount. In progress of sorts, departments of state increasingly accepted that Tainui might be eligible for something similar to the interim Taranaki solution. Just before the government left office, the iwi accepted an offer along these lines. All raupatu tribes, however, continued to seek land as part or all of their final settlements.93