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


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This interpretation of Crown-Maori relations in the first half of the twentieth century was first generally expressed in a report for the Treaty of Waitangi resolution processes.1 The report, commissioned by a Treaty claims funding agency, the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, provided an overview of Maori quests for rangatiratanga/autonomy in the twentieth century and the Crown's responses to them. A number of readers suggested wider dissemination of its arguments. Undertaking this required extensive reworking and expansion of the original text, which had been limited by considerations of time and terms of reference. The Marsden Fund kindly provided support for the revising process, and this book — a greatly expanded and fundamental rewriting of the first half of the report — is one result. While the thrust of the report's arguments remains intact, the book is a quite different product and should be seen as completely superseding it. I thank the Trust and the Fund for their support in assisting me to fulfil long-held research plans, and the History Group of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for supporting publication.

The work examines Crown-Maori relations at a macro level throughout half a century, the Crown being the seamless lego-constitutional controlling authority in New Zealand history since 1840, including executive government and its officials. It does not pretend to offer any analysis of-in the words of a scholar who chooses to 'privilege' the 'vantage point of the colonized' — Maori 'ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce'. Nor does the book set out to advocate for one side or the other in the Crown-Maori relationship. Its analyses of why the Crown acted as it did are intended to explain — not to explain away — those actions. Equally the book is not a pakeha page 8(white/'European'/non-Maori) equivalent of writings by Maori scholars who have been inspired by, as well as their own people's struggles, works such as Brazilian educator Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed — which is dedicated to 'the oppressed, and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side' — or Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. It avoids judgments such as that of a 1940 assessment that the 'history of the State's dealing in Maori lands is a sad story that makes the heart sick'.2

I leave it to readers to decide whether their heart is sick at the events about which they read, or whether the book can or should be used as 'an instrument of liberation'. I simply note here that in recent years scholars, both pakeha and Maori, have been emphasising Maori agency in the struggle against Crown expropriationist and other policies; and that, as a result, Maori have gained extra knowledge and tools in their ongoing attempts to fight assimilationist tendencies and regain rangatiratanga. But it is not, in the historiographical tradition to which I adhere, the task of the scholar to attempt to proselytise or guide. While 'objectivity' is most certainly a problematic and now (correctly) much-interrogated concept, this book strives to be objective; if it were consciously a 'subjective' account, it might be a very different work. Moreover, although believing it essential to examine critically many of what have long been regarded as historical 'truths', I do not subscribe to an extreme postmodernist position that denies the existence of any facts or truths (and therefore the ability of scholars to find or relate them). If I did, I would not have taken the trouble to write the book.

To help make its scope containable, the work omits significant dimensions, particularly the class relations which are so integral to structured inequality. On the surface it might seem to perpetuate something for which a North American observer has recently criticised modern New Zealand scholarship: an oversimplication whereby society 'is seen to be organised bi-culturally'. However, while I am very conscious of the primal importance of class relations in a capitalist society, and the significance of subjects (including other cultures and ethnicities) that do not fit within a binary model, this book is about something else: politico-cultural relations between Maori and state leaderships, in the context of the ongoing Maori assertion of rangatiratanga and the Crown's various page 9responses to this. Moreover, while I have some sympathy with a Maori historian's call for a 'reconceptualisation of bicultural politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand', I note that this assertion was made in the context of a conscious 'project of a counter-hegemonic cultural politics'. This gives me occasion to repeat that this book is not intended as a contribution to 'activist history', although it may provide evidence for those seeking change. Suffice it to say here that the institutions it covers are often sites of both control of and opportunity for Maori, and that knowledge of how this has occurred in the past may guide actions in the future.3

The text is based on a large corpus of research material, secondary and primary. In an attempt to avoid excessive numbers of endnotes and with a general readership in mind, I have omitted citing most archival sources and secondary references not readily accessible to the public. The endnotes reflect the nature of the work as an interpretive survey. Each endnote is a composite covering the text following the previous endnote. The references have several purposes: indications of key works which have informed the text of the preceding passages, sources of specific pieces of information or citation, pointers to areas of focus for further or related reading, and (in the case of multiple citings) a means of assisting the reader to follow through themes. I have avoided personalised engagement with fellow historians, in order not to distract from the focus and flow of the work. But I do sketch broad historiographical agreements and disagreements, and reference to the endnotes will assist further pursuit of such issues.

Some of the coverage of Crown-Maori negotiations reflects government-held archival evidence viewed during my experiences of working in the resolution of historical Treaty of Waitangi' grievances from 1989, the year the Crown took new policy directions, including exploring the concept of direct negotiations with tribal groupings. Other coverage reflects material I have had access to as Director of the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit at Victoria University of Wellington. Some small portions of the book incorporate oral testimony from Maori who have preferred to remain unreferenced, and general guidance on this and other cultural matters was kindly provided, right up to his death in 2003, by the Research Unit's greatly missed Kaumatua, Tamihana Te Winitana.

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I have had many discussions with friends and colleagues both on the issues canvassed in the text and on history and scholarship in general, most frequently with Professor James Belich and Drs David Pearson and Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich. As with my previous projects, I have been warmly supported and encouraged by my now-adult children, and — as with my very first publication — I dedicate this book to them.

I have benefited from lively discussions with various people at and associated with Victoria University's Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies (in which the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit is located) over the years. Maureen West of the Research Unit has provided valuable back-up assistance, and Stout Research Centre directors Professor Vincent O'Sullivan and Associate Professor Lydia Wevers have given ongoing support. I thank Andrew Mason for his careful and thoughtful editing, and Fergus Barrowman and Sue Brown at Victoria University Press for their encouragement and support.

As well as the above, I owe a debt to others (such as the participants in the 'informal seminars' in various hostelries in Wellington on Friday nights, at which academic subjects are often pursued, at least early in the evening) for discussions which have helped shape the text. However, the responsibility for this preliminary and interpretive general survey, which is intended to promote debate, lies solely with myself. It will be followed by a successor work covering the second half of the twentieth century.

Richard Hill

Victoria University of Wellington