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

Post-war tribal settlements

Post-war tribal settlements

Kingitanga tribes had held out from settling with the Crown by the end of the war. As with other raupatu tribes, they had always wanted recompense based on the return of seized land. It had only been in the face of firm government rejection of land reparations that they had previously been prepared to discuss monetary compensation. Given the page 223Crown's wartime willingness to find farmland to settle returned servicemen, the tribal leaders had again stressed their strong preferences for compensation in land. This stymied any possibility of agreement on reparations during the course of the war. Disquiet among such an important tribal grouping was regarded as a serious impediment to postwar reconstructive progress. After the war Fraser had appointed M R Jones to be Maori Liaison Officer. He was to concentrate on overseeing implementation of the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act, but was also named as the chief official for negotiating tribal compensation.

Despite its ability to procure lands for other purposes, the government remained adamant that money alone would be offered in settlement of grievances. This would avoid both a precedent for future settlements and demands for reopening the existing 'final' settlements. Some of the most traditional elements within Kingitanga, encouraged by the generally favourable race relations climate in wartime, argued for holding out indefinitely for Crown recognition of a version of rangatiratanga centred on return of raupatu land – and also for statutory recognition of their king as a leader of international status. Jones and his staff, however, assiduously canvassed tribal leaders with the message that land and independence were not on the agenda.

The Sim Commission's recommendation that Waikato receive a smaller annual compensation than Taranaki had been overturned long ago. If it had to give up its claims for land reparations, however, Kingitanga hoped to negotiate a better deal than Taranaki's. The government stressed that the sum of £5000 a year in perpetuity was the maximum possible, in view of the settlements already reached, but offered extra payments as arrears to cover the decade since parity with Taranaki had been conceded. The proposals were put to a huge hui at Turangawaewae marae at Easter 1946 by both the tribal leadership and a government team comprising Fraser, Mason and Tirikatene. Some quarters voiced opposition to such a settlement, including Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Haua representatives; others who agreed to accept the proffered settlement pledged to continue the fight for return of confiscated land still in Crown hands. But the great majority supported what was seen as the best possible deal for the times, and the Tainui tribes generally saw the resulting Waikato– page 224Maniapoto Maori Claims Settlement Act as a Crown endorsement of rangatiratanga.

At the beginning of this new settlement era in the 1940s, in fact, there was great optimism among, and even some concrete gains for, the recipient iwi. Indeed, it has been said that the 'quality of life' in the Waikato 'markedly' improved as a result of the settlement. Moreover, insofar as the trust boards embodied state recognition of collective tribal control, they constituted contested territory on which rangatiratanga could be advanced (or set back) during engagement with the Crown. Tainui's board, for example, established itself at Turangawaewae House in Ngaruawahia, which had been opened as Kingite headquarters in 1919. It operated alongside and in conjunction with other Kingitanga governing institutions such as Te Kauhanganui, Te Kaumarua (kaumatua advisers to the King) and the Runanganui (council of delegates from marae committees). All were involved in Tainui's socio-political revival.115

From 1946, when Labour gained increased Maori votes, other outstanding claims were investigated. Further settlements were negotiated, including with Whakatohea, a tribe which had not emerged as well from the Sim Commission as others. It settled over what had been deemed to be some 'excessive' confiscation, and thus created a new precedent for tribal compensation. The Crown assessed that its reparations should be low in relation to the other raupatu tribes, and so an annual payment would not have been meaningful. A one-off lump sum of £20,000 was negotiated instead, enough to give the new tribal trust board a capital base.

Treasury and other officials, and politicians, saw this as a positive development: the slate was wiped clean in a 'discount for bulk' deal, and ongoing relations with the iwi would not be complicated by an annual monetary reminder of past events. It was a precedent for 'smaller settlements' for tribes in the negotiating queue. Over time, these negotiations led to other lump-sum reparation payments. In 1949 it was agreed, for example, that £20,000 should go to the Wairoa Maori Trust Board in compensation for transactions over the Kauhouroa Block. In the following year compensation of £38,000 and £50,000 was negotiated with regard to the Patutahi and Aorangi Blocks.

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Annuity and lump-sum reparations did not mean that tribes had abandoned their quest to expand turangawaewae, whether or not the Crown and Parliament billed settlements as 'full and final'. In 1949, for example, a significant claimant hui had reiterated that, ideally, land should be provided in compensation for past losses. But the government's only concession had been to allow trust boards to operate commercially with regard to land: if tribes wanted to rebuild land holdings, they could purchase on the open market when properties became available, even if these were Crown lands that had become surplus to state requirements. But such purchases were seldom within reach, even for iwi with settlement incomes.

Trust boards were charged with providing, from their settlement monies, a broad range of services for their people, including social and economic welfare, education and health. Although the tribes hoped to do all this and more, particularly financing politico-cultural revival, in the long run they were able to provide few social services except for some welfare and educational assistance to individuals. The realities of the situation meant, for example, that Tainui's board could not begin to develop a commercial focus until the 1970s, and this was made possible only by negotiating capitalisation of 20 years' worth of the annual grant. But, in general, the results of renegotiations were of little import. When inflation made the various trust board incomes of little value, the state conceded no more than small annuity rises and the perpetualising of Ngai Tahu's payments.

Compensation payments, then, provided the trust boards with little more than basic monies to run tribal affairs and enhance their politico-cultural dimension as best they could, and beyond that to provide assistance to needy or deserving tribal members. As officially sanctioned institutions, under trustee law and various legislative provisons the boards had obligations as well as powers, and these added to their difficulties. In 1955, moreover, the trust board system was consolidated and further regulated by the Maori Trust Boards Act. Despite Crown control over their activities, however, the boards continued to be seen by many Maori as representing a significant degree of official recognition of tribally based collective autonomy.

page 226

Conversely, the government had hoped that settling with the tribes which had the largest and most persistent grievances would be sufficient to remove some major remaining blockages to assimilating Maori into the dominant culture and the capitalist economy; concomitantly, they would be assisted to move gradually towards socio-economic parity with pakeha within the welfare state. Maoridom welcomed efforts to close the disparities in living standards between the two peoples. But it reiterated that it wanted more than this, including both freeing up the trust boards and Crown recognition of mechanisms of autonomy for those many tribes which lacked boards.

The Maori summit conference of 1944 had requested investigation of all remaining grievances as part of redefining the place of Maori in post-war society. Official representatives had been obliged to take note, leading to a greater impetus for various tribes to press their claims. The government finally met such pressure by establishing what had been discussed for a long time: a general commission into grievances that were not already settled or on the negotiating table. But this would focus on the 'surplus lands' issue, involving those lands which had been deemed not to have been validly purchased from Maori before annexation, but the ownership of which had been assumed by the state rather than being passed back to the original Maori owners. Many other claims had been deemed to be insignificant or 'frivolous' by officials, and the government had generally accepted their advice. When the commission was announced on 5 October 1946, therefore, it had limited terms of reference. This was greeted with anger by Maori, and the Crown was forced to announce that other claims with prima facie substance would not be overlooked. In 1947 it specifically added some new claims to the work of the 'Surplus Lands Commission'.

Many grievances, however, continued to remain outside the state's interest. And, in the event, the commission's findings and subsequent Crown actions were far from satisfying for the various claimant groups. The commissioners had 'followed a well established pattern of not using historians to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the early purchases', and they recommended low levels of compensation. The small tribal reparation payments which resulted from negotiations page 227reflected the continued lack of Crown knowledge of and empathy with tribal grievances. This did not augur well for an ideal relationship between kawanatanga and rangatiratanga. But it needs to be balanced by the fact that some tribes considered that they had made significant gains in reclaiming a degree of autonomy before and during the period of postwar reconstruction. While some hopes had been dashed, others had been partly fulfilled, and this had fortified many Maori in their 'struggle without end': 'ka whawhai tonu matou'.116