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The Maori Situation

VIII—The Forward Move

page 56

VIII—The Forward Move

Mention has already been made of the fact that until recently there has been little exchange of experience between the various Maori tribes of New Zealand. Tribal experience since the coming of the pakeha has been different in many ways, and this century found the various tribes in distinctly different moods and circumstances. The tribes of the north, who took the first shock of contact, were poor, more or less content with a comparatively low standard of life, and in many ways in a condition different from that of the East Coast tribe just described. Those in Taranaki and Waikato, remembering the defeat of the 'sixties, had much to brood over, as well as specific grievances for which they sought redress; and they long refused to make any very ready or willing co-operation with pakeha government and pakeha education. Apart from their varying experiences with the white man and his Government, the tribes also had their complexities of past relationships, friendly and otherwise, with one another. Inter-tribal communication is effected at the occasional Maori gatherings as described by Dr. Buck. Writing of the way in which these have in recent years been employed by Maori leaders, Sir Apirana Ngata has said: “The Maori world to-day is rich in men and women who, by virtue of education, business experience, social position and a sense of patriotism, are deliberately setting about the problem of fitting their people into the present-day conditions of New Zealand. They have in the tribal organization an instrument for publicity and the promulgation of schemes and ideas. The occasions for its use are the gatherings—hui, tangi, and feasts—so often deprecated by well-meaning friends and advisers of the Maori who see in them nothing page 57 but extravagance, waste of valuable time, danger to health and the perpetuation of undesirable customs. The average European has not realized that the promulgation of the ideas he has persistently sought to impose on the Maori people was not possible without recourse to the old-time method of discussion on the marae (the village courtyard) or in runanga or meeting house.”

In 1927 a Maori gathering which was to have important consequences was held at Wanganui. It was an historic renewal of relations between tribes of east and west and an opportunity for the exchange of experience and the discussion of Maori welfare. Of this meeting two of the Maori members of Parliament prepared a report for presentation to Parliament and from their report the following interesting passage is taken:

“The race had reached a stage in its development when young men, not soured by past tribal grievances, must get together and gather into a coherent, conscious organization the fragmentary progressive attempts made by the Maori to fit himself into his present environment. Sir Maui Pomare and Mr. Ngata defined the present position of the Maori people and recounted the successive steps that had been adopted for its betterment. The leaven of progress had been steadily at work, and when reviewed along all lines, the development had been remarkable. Physically there was abundant evidence of a wonderful improvement apart from the statistics of the last census, no visitor to any representative Maori meeting could fail to observe the health and vigour of the young generation, its poise and its self-confident bearing, the full cradles, and the greater care of infant life. The latter day Maori is throwing off the shackles of the past; looking little, if at all, over his shoulder, and interesting himself in the activities and pastimes of his pakeha fellowcitizen. Socially he is rapidly fitting himself into the life of page 58 the country, where for a time he found himself in bewilderment. The communal Maori has become an individualist in proprietorship and in his home life. His womankind, as with other races, is speeding up the process of Europeanization in the home life and surroundings, so that the pakeha ideal of a ‘home’ is being gradually realized in the Maori villages throughout the Dominion. And the culture-complex that centres round the term ‘home’ (in its English significance) has with native modification been adopted. Economically and commercially the influence of four generations of civilization could not fail to affect the Maori extensively. With the loss of the greater part of their landed inheritance, the increase in population, the increased cost of living, the raising of the standard of life, and the weakening of the protective elements of the old-time communism, the Maoris of to-day were feeling the economic pressure with progressive severity. The feature of the day was, perhaps, the desire of the young people to work for themselves rather than be casual employees of others. Much of the pioneering work in the backblocks— bushfelling, fencing, roadmaking, shearing, draining and stumping, and such like—had been done and was still being done by the Maoris. That stage was almost past in the industrial development of the Dominion. The younger Maoris were reacting on the already complicated Maori-land problem and were demanding individualization, consolidation, readjustment of occupation conditions, and financial assistance. Their attitude towards the balance of their landed inheritance was much the same as that of Europeans towards the unoccupied Crown lands and the large estates of the Dominion. They were also compelled to look beyond casual employment in unskilled trades and on public works to the skilled trades, and, with that in mind, to regard education and training in a new light. Intellectually the attitude of the race towards education was a revelation of the accumulated effects of page 59 civilizing influences. School attendance readily became one of the stages of the Maori youth. Naturally well endowed with brains, the discipline of the schools fostered with each successive generation the faculty of application, while the success of a few of their kind in the highest schools supplied fresh incentive and the motive of emulation. To-day no movement is capturing the mind of the best-thinking of the Maori youth so forcibly as that which aims, through the most suitable education, at preparing the Maori to take a fitting place in the life of the Dominion.” This passage is interesting in its equalitarian hopefulness and in its emphasis on the “Europeanization” aspect of the progress of the Maori. Here we have the Maori taking stock of himself and of his situation, and thinking of it particularly in relation to the general life of the Dominion. This meeting was followed by others in Maori centres in Manawatu, Waikato and the far North. In each case there was an interchange of tribal opinion and the progress of Ngatiporou and its challenge to other tribes was discussed. The Ngatiporou leader, Sir Apirana Ngata, was the moving spirit throughout, recounting what his people had been able to do, what had been tried and found workable, and putting definite proposals for similar efforts at advancement before the other tribes. The Ngapuhi in the North agreed to profit by East Coast experience and adopted the consolidation idea. But in the case of some tribes there were obstacles. They were found to be still repeating the kupu of their ancestors, the authoritative sayings of the past. This prevented realistic thinking on the problems of the present or any attempt to plan for the future. They were clinging blindly to what remained of the old because they could not themselves envisage the new. But the meetings were stimulating and revealing. Much was done to bring about a change of attitude; a growing unity was felt through this renewal of tribal relationships and a heightening of racial page 60 consciousness. The race was seen to be in better heart and in particular the young people, it was evident, were good human material desiring and deserving opportunities for the renewal and development of life. In every case where a tribe agreed to make a forward move it was the young people who asserted themselves and broke the spell of the past. The more intelligent of them realized clearly enough the difficult position of their race and saw in the cultivation of their own lands the main hope for a self-respecting existence. But the question was how to find the means: the difficulties were so many. The land was tied up in all manner of complicated ways. If a young Maori or a Maori family had a definite plan in mind, the problem of obtaining finance was almost insuperable. There was also the spur of necessity. Actual stress was compelling Maori communities to look to farming for their maintenance. The forms of work which had been open to Maoris were referred to in the passage already quoted. Incidentally the work of Maoris in the pioneering phase of New Zealand life may be looked at from the other way. The Maori contribution to the white settlement of New Zealand has never been fully acknowledged; in fact scarcely acknowledged at all. Yet it was extensive and valuable. From the very first Maori knowledge of the physical conditions of the country and Maori labour for all the tasks of breaking in new land had been freely availed of in almost every part of New Zealand. All this remains to be written into the history of the country. From the Maori point of view, in the second decade of this century, the work of clearing the forest, draining the swamps, cutting the scrub, grassing and fencing, building the roads in which they had been extensively employed was finished. The timber, kauri-gum and flax industries which had supported a number of Maoris were in a declining state. The Maoris were thus brought up against a new economic situation—the pakeha whom they had aided page 61 was now a producer and wanted their services no longer; while they had lands of their own or interests in lands and in many cases they had the practical knowledge of the operations required to develop them. They were ready for a lead and for the necessary assistance.

The financial assistance for Maori farming available from Maori sources through the Native Trust Office established in 1920, and through the various Maori Land Boards was most clearly inadequate. So also were methods of freeing Maori land for settlement, though the process of consolidation which was proving to be an effective and enduring method of resolving the situation had been speeded up. It was apparent to Maori leaders and to anyone also interested, that the problem of providing effectively for the future of the Maori population could no longer be deferred; and that Maori farming of Maori lands was the solution. Legislation of 1929 and 1930 provided the means. On becoming Native Minister, Sir Apirana Ngata set out to do for fellow-Maoris what he had done for his own tribe, and was able to put into operation schemes that had been so long and patiently prepared; for up to this date, though repeatedly urged to do so, Parliament had not been moved to apply State funds to the development and utilization of lands owned or occupied by Maoris. Accumulated Maori funds were all that had been available. The further step was now taken. The following extract from a departmental report is a brief summary of the mechanism of the new project:

“During the 1929 session, when Parliament sanctioned a scheme for the development of unoccupied Crown lands preliminary to selection, it was decided to apply similar provisions to lands owned or occupied by Maoris. To overcome any delays or difficulties arising from the nature of the titles to the lands proposed to be developed, the Native Minister was authorized to bring such lands under the scope of a page 62 development scheme. Upon notification of the fact the owners were prevented from interfering with the work of development, and private alienation of any land within the scheme was prohibited. The funds for development were provided by the Minister of Finance through the Native Land Settlement Account. The difficulties as to title were literally stepped over, and the development and settlement of the lands made the prime consideration. The Minister was armed with the most comprehensive powers, which he could exercise directly through the Native Department or delegate to any Maori Land Board or to the Native Trustee. Amendments passed in 1930 empowered the Minister to direct a Board to use its funds for development, and instituted a system of development under the control of the Native Trustee, using the funds in his account. Power was also taken, by arrangement between the Minister of Lands and the Native Minister, to develop Crown lands that came within the sphere of a Native land development scheme, thus removing a further obstacle in the way of development.”

Thus provision was made for putting selected units of the Maori race on Maori lands in planned and supervised schemes. The legislative provisions were immediately availed of and by the middle of 1931 there were forty-one schemes in operation or authorized. There are now forty-four.