Volume 93 1984 > Volume 93, No. 3 > The genesis of Maori activism, by R. J. Walker, p 267-282
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In 1982, Maori activists who aligned the cause of Maori rights in New Zealand with the concerns of oppressed indigenous minorities in Australia, Vanuatu, Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific basin were subjected to strong political condemnation. The castigation in the media of Maori activists by the Prime Minister, Mr Muldoon (NZ Herald 9/3/82), and the Minister of Maori Affairs, Mr Couch (NZ Herald 19/8/82), was such that the term “Maori activist” has taken on negative connotations in the public mind. The activists were condemned as a Cuba-trained, vocal and unrepresentative minority who were in a sense an aberration on the New Zealand scene because their tactic of demonstrating in public was “not the Maori way”.

This paper will explore the genesis of Maori activism after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, identify its underlying dynamic and its various manifestations and transformations down to the present new wave of Maori activists.

Activism is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “a policy of vigorous action in politics”. No value judgment is made in the definition. Activism is undertaken by individuals or groups who have a cause or a sense of grievance arising out of the exercise of power by the legitimate office-holders of that power. The strategies of activism include lobbying, making submissions, mounting deputations and circulating petitions. These are the socially acceptable and legitimate means at the disposal of activists for influencing the decisions of politicians. But if these strategies fail, activists may resort to more vigorous action such as demonstrations, pickets, marches, boycotts and occupation of land under dispute. Inasmuch as these tactics are exercised in public places, they draw attention to the cause espoused by the activists. But this is a two-edged weapon, as it also generates opposition from sections of the general populace not in sympathy with the cause. It is these vigorous tactics which, although legitimate, bring down opprobrium on the heads of activists.

Some activists, motivated by the pursuit of natural justice or the morality of the cause they espouse, if all else fails resort to extremely vigorous actions which put them at risk with the law. These include painting slogans in public places, damaging property, illegal occupation - 268 of land or property in contention, passive resistance to the forces of law, and, as a last resort, armed resistance.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi, signed by 43 chiefs on February 6, 1840, purports to be the instrument by which the Maori people surrendered their sovereignty to the British Crown. But because of inappropriate translations of key words the treaty is not a legally convincing document. The word mana, the only Maori equivalent to the concept of ‘sovereignty’, was not used in the first clause. The word kawanatanga (‘governance’) was substituted for mana, so the chiefs were asked to cede kawanatanga, the unknown concept of ‘governance’, of their lands to the Crown. The word kawanatanga obfuscates the meaning of the treaty because it is a missionary transliteration of governance (Ross 1972:20), a word which appears in the order of the morning service (“that all our doings be ordered by thy governance”). Thus the word kawanatanga used in the missionary language of prayer appeared to be a harmless, indeed benign, term, when what it stood for was mana. Had the word mana been used, then the purpose of the treaty as an instrument ceding sovereignty would have been absolutely clear.

The second clause of the treaty compounded the misapprehension of the chiefs by guaranteeing them the rangatiratanga of their lands, homes and possessions. Thus they were ceding an unknown thing called “governance” for a guarantee of their own chieftainship. This misapprehension of the purpose of the treaty is evident in Colenso's account of its signing. At mid-morning on February 6, Hobson announced he was ready to take signatures. Williams read the treaty and called on the chiefs to come forward and sign. No one moved. Colenso then asked Hobson if he was of the opinion that the Maori chiefs understood the articles they were about to sign, because they ought to understand it to make it legal. Hobson replied: “If the natives do not know the contents of this Treaty it is no fault of mine. I wish them fully to understand it. . . . They have heard the Treaty read by Mr. Williams. . . .” Busby then quoted the words of Hone Heke, who had said in the discussions of the previous day that “the native mind could not comprehend these things . . . they must trust to the advice of the missionaries” (Colenso 1971:33).

When the chiefs did not respond to Hobson's invitation to sign the treaty, Busby hit on the idea of calling their names out singly. Hone Heke was the first, followed by 42 others. Hobson shook hands with the chiefs, saying, “He iwi tahi tatou (we are one people)”.

Maori misapprehension of the treaty was also evident at a subsequent signing by the chief Nopera Panakareao at Kaitaia. Panakareao passed - 269 judgment on the treaty that “the shadow of the land has passed to the Queen, the substance has remained with us” (Ward 1968:49). Within a year Panakareao had reversed that statement, and the history of Maori activism since that time has been characterised by a restless search to recover and reassert that lost sovereignty. This is the underlying dynamic of Maori activism, the assertion of mana Maori motuhake (Maori sovereignty). Modern protagonists of this dynamic use the phrase self-determination.

The History of Maori Activism

One of the powerful myth-themes of New Zealand society is racial harmony, derived from Hobson's statement at Waitangi that Maori and Pakeha were joined as one by the treaty. But the difficulties of living out that ideal soon became apparent, as two races of vastly different cultural traditions competed for the land and its resources.

In June 1843, Captain Arthur Wakefield attempted to assert the claim of the New Zealand Company to Maori land at Wairau by enlisting the aid of the police magistrate at Nelson and 50 armed settlers. He was opposed by Te Rauparaha, who responded at first by warning the surveyors off his land and appealing to the rule of law, namely to wait for settlement of the dispute by Commissioner Spain. Despite Te Rauparaha's expressed desire for a peaceful settlement, fighting broke out, and he was forced to respond with the most extreme form of vigorous action, which resulted in the deaths of 19 Pakehas (Saunders 1896:202). From our present historical perspective, it would be fair to accord Te Rauparaha the distinction of being New Zealand's first Maori activist, whose strategy ranged from direct action through appeal to law and, finally, to fighting in defence of his rights.

While Hone Heke admitted signing the treaty in ignorance and trusting the behest of the missionaries, that incomprehension soon changed as the assumption of sovereignty by the Governor took effect. The imposition of customs duties brought an end to free trade in the Bay of Islands, and the Crown right of pre-emption slowed down land sales. The revenue of chiefs dropped as ships were driven away to other ports where they could conduct free trade with the Maori. Heke saw the flagstaff which signalled the ships and forbade him on board as the symbol of his discontent. Knowing no other form of political expression in the new society, he embarked on a course of vigorous action. He cut down the flagstaff and confiscated the signal balls. This rather benign political act by Heke was misunderstood by the Governor, who waged war on Heke.

The older chiefs put the episode in perspective when they counseled - 270 Governor Fitzroy that “it was not worthwhile to shed blood about a bit of wood” (Saunders 1896:202). This sage advice was not accepted, as Fitzroy escalated the conflict with Heke in order to assert his mana. He was not equal to the task, and was replaced by Governor Grey, who brought the conflict to an end at the battle of Ruapekapeka in 1845.

Although the clashes of Te Rauparaha and Heke with Pakeha authority were localised affairs, they were the portents of the Maori dynamic of self-determination that was to find expression in various movements over the next 140 years. The first of these was the Kotahitanga or unity movement (Sinclair 1959:112), which, through a series of inter-tribal meetings, sought to prohibit land sales and prevent the eclipse of Maori mana by Pakeha settlers. The Kotahitanga culminated in the King Movement, which elected Te Wherowhero as the first Maori King in 1858.

The Maori King was established as the symbol of mana whenua (land) and mana tangata (people), and to stop inter-tribal blood-letting (Jones 1959:196). The King was the living embodiment of the dynamic of mana Maori motuhake, Maori sovereignty and self-determination (Jones 1959:231). But the King was misconstrued as a symbol of Maori nationalism in opposition to the Crown, and Grey promised to wage war until he was put down. Grey failed to appreciate the Maori conception of the King as being “essentially an alliance with the Queen and Governor for a common purpose” (Ward 1973:123). Tamihana, the chief most responsible for the election of a Maori King, when challenged, rebutted a charge of disloyalty to the Crown by constructing a simple model to represent his sophisticated conception of a dual administration. It consisted of two sticks thrust into the ground, representing the Governor and the King as primus inter pares in a conjoint administration, with a third stick across them representing the Queen, binding them together under the law of God. Grey had his way, as the settler Government invaded the Waikato and crushed the King Movement by confiscating a million acres of Waikato land.

The Maori response to defeat in the Land Wars of the 1860s was to create a series of prophetic movements aimed at unifying the tribes and recovering the land. In 1864, the Pai Marire cult, led by Te Ua Haumene, promised divine assistance if the Maoris in Taranaki took up arms again to drive the Pakeha into the sea. The Pai Marire soon rivalled the King Movement as a focus for Maori resistance against Pakeha dominion (Ward 1973:168).

The Pai Marire, otherwise known as the Hauhau cult, spread to the East Coast, where the mantle of leadership was thrust on a reluctant Te Kooti when he was imprisoned without trial on the Chatham Islands. There his divine mission was revealed to him: - 271

Rise! come forth! you are spared to be made well, to be the founder of a new church and religion, to be the salvation of the faithful of the Maori people and to release them from bondage (Ross 1966:30).

Te Kooti escaped back to the mainland in 1868, and conducted a protracted guerrilla campaign against the Government. But, with the might of Government forces pursuing him relentlessly for six years in the Urewara, he concluded armed resistance was hopeless; so he sought peace in 1874.

The prophets turned to pacifism as an alternative means of expressing the Maori dynamic of self-determination. This new approach to a modus vivendi with the Pakeha was expressed by Te Whiti and the new Jerusalem he established at Parihaka:

Lay down your weapons. Be wise . . . though the whites exterminate the trunk they cannot pull out the roots. Avoid all sale and lease of land. Permit no European to cross the border of this, our last free Maori land. We want no roads or schools from them. Let them do with their land as they will (Scott 1954:27).

But even Te Whiti's movement was perceived as a potential source of insurrection, so it was crushed by the Parihaka Expeditionary Force in 1881. A similar fate befell the cult of Rua Kenana at Maungapohatu in 1916, although he explicitly proclaimed coexistence in the new society with the phrase “one law for two peoples” on his flag (Binney 1979:99).

The suppression of the King Movement and the prophets failed to kill off the Maori dynamic of self-determination; it was merely transformed into alternative movements seeking a modus vivendi for a dual system of sovereignty or the minimum concession of the devolution of authority in Maori affairs to autonomous Maori districts.

King Tawhiao petitioned the Queen of England, in 1884, to grant a form of home rule to Maori people living on their own lands to make laws pertaining to those lands, but he was referred back to the New Zealand Government. Eventually Tawhiao appealed to John Ballance in 1886 for a Maori Council to administer Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi (Williams 1969:43). The Government refused to sanction the formation of a council, so Tawhiao established his own Kauhanganui (Council) citing his right to do so under Section 71 of the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, which provided for self-government in native districts according to their own customs and social usages. Tawhiao proclaimed his mana by publishing, in 1891, Te Paki-o-Matariki, the newspaper of the “Independent Maori Power of Aotearoa”. The major thrust of Tawhiao's policy was to control Maori land and resources by limiting the term of leases to 22 years and retaining the right to mine - 272 minerals and build roads on Maori land (Williams 1969:4). Unfortunately for Tawhiao, he lacked the support of other tribes to bargain with Seddon, the Prime Minister at the time, and the Government, secure in its monopoly of power over the Maori, rejected the proposals of the Kauhanganui.

At the same time as Tawhiao was establishing his Kauhanganui, widespread meetings were held by other tribes outside the King Movement to discuss Maori grievances under the Treaty of Waitangi. These included unjust confiscation of land following the Land Wars and the alienation of Maori land under the operations of the Native Land Court, established in 1867. These tribal deliberations culminated in a meeting at Waitangi in April 1892, which established Kotahitanga mo te Tiriti o Waitangi (Unity for the Treaty of Waitangi), otherwise known as the Maori Parliament.

The first meeting of Kotahitanga was held at Waipatu marae in Hawkes Bay in June 1892. This meeting dealt with unification of the Maori people in order to counter the political power of the Pakeha. The second item on the agenda was an examination of the Treaty of Waitangi, to discover which part of it deprived the Maori of mana to determine the management of his own land. The third item called for an analysis of Section 71 of the New Zealand Constitution Act (1852), to decide whether Maori people had the power under the act to establish their own council. The fourth part of the agenda was to ensure that “no trouble should arise between the two peoples of New Zealand because of the three matters above. Only goodness and well-being of the Crown should flourish” (Maori Parliament 1892:2). Clearly, the activism of the tribes was accommodating, and aimed at creating a dual system of administration within the political and constitutional framework of New Zealand society. Their good intentions deserved better than what they received at the hand of a dominant government determined to acquire what remained of Maori land for Pakeha settlement.

The policies of Kotahitanga included: making laws for Maori land; taking up land grievances after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, including lands wrongly confiscated or unfairly purchased; gaining recognition of Maori rights to their fisheries, oyster beds, shellfish beds, mudflats, tidal estuaries and other food resources controlled by Harbour Boards and other Government agencies. Kotahitanga also aimed at abolishing the Native Land Court and challenging the right of the Public Trustee to administer, control, and lease the West Coast Maori reserved lands. It even had a policy for the promotion of Maori land development through pastoral farming (Maori Parliament 1892:26).

In 1894 Kotahitanga, through its elected member Hone Heke in the - 273 Northern Maori seat, introduced a Native Rights Bill into Parliament seeking sanction and authority for the Maori Parliament. During the debate on the bill, Pakeha members walked out of the House, and the debate was adjourned for the lack of a quorum. At the fourth meeting of Kotahitanga at Rotorua in March 1895, this stalling of the bill was discussed, and Wi Pere of the Upper House of the Maori Parliament passed judgment:

This bill seeking mana may not be granted perhaps for as long as 30 years like the Irish seeking home rule for themselves. . . . This Bill seeking mana will not be granted until all the land has been alienated, whereupon there will be no place left for its application (Maori Parliament 1895:26).

The words of Wi Pere were indeed prophetic. The power of Parliament to repress the will of a minority was exercised by the rejection of the Maori Rights Bill in 1896. It was not until 1979, when Maori land-base was down to 4 percent of New Zealand's area, that the Government-sponsored New Zealand Maori Council was given the power to rewrite the Maori Affairs Bill according to Maori needs, philosophy and cultural aspirations.

With the rejection of the Native Rights Bill, combined with recriminations of financial mismanagement, Kotahitanga lost its momentum. Its radical thrust was partially blunted by the implementation of watered-down versions of its policies in the Maori Councils Act 1900. The initiative of Maori leadership passed to a new movement called Kotahitanga o Te Aute. This group was established in January 1897 to harness the education and talents of the old boys of Te Aute College.

At the fifth meeting of the new Kotahitanga in January 1900 the loss of confidence of the chiefs in the old Kotahitanga, and the transference of their support to the new one, were voiced by Te Heuheu, the paramount chief of Tuwharetoa:

I was a strong supporter of the old Kotahitanga. I thought there was salvation in it for the Maori people, but it was not found. Should the old Kotahitanga cease may this one flourish (Te Pipiwharauroa 1901:3).

Ngata saw the old Kotahitanga as the forum of elders, and the new one as the opportunity for youth to take the initiative. The concerns of the new Kotahitanga moved away from the issue of sovereignty to mundane matters such as formulating marae regulations for the Maori Councils. These included prohibiting fires inside houses with no chimneys, installing wooden floors in houses, providing thorough ventilation, limiting tangi (lying in state for corpses) to four days, prohibition of - 274 alcohol on marae and the provision of pure water supplies. However, on the issue of Maori land there was congruence between the two. Kotahitanga o Te Aute became the forum in which Ngata formulated the policies of Maori land development which became the hallmark of his political career.

Ngata saw Maori settlement and development of their own lands as the only way of retaining land in Maori ownership. With the growing strength of the new Kotahitanga, Ngata and Carrol felt confident enough to lay the old one to rest by replacing it with the Government-sponsored Maori Councils. The annual general meeting of the councils was to substitute for the annual meetings of the Maori Parliament.

The dynamic underlying Kotahitanga did not die easily. An editorial in Te Pipiwharauroa (1905:1) suggested reviving the old Kotahitanga in 1905, as a strong voice to oppose the taking of “idle Maori land for Pakeha settlement”, because the Maori Councils, being Government-sponsored, were not in a position to criticise the Government.

Although Kotahitanga Mo te Tiriti o Waitangi was not revived, the new Kotahitanga thrust Ngata into a leadership role that launched him into a key position in the Maori Councils and then into a long political career when he entered Parliament in 1905. Ngata, Buck and Pomare, as the university-trained elite of Maori society, were essentially reformists who were concerned more with the physical and cultural survival of the Maori people than the issue of sovereignty. They used their tenure of Maori seats in Parliament to institute health reforms, a revival of Maori culture and a programme of Maori land development. But because these men operated within the parameters of the Pakeha political system, in time they came to be seen as “brokers for metropolitan society” (Freire 1972:131). Pomare in particular was seen to be doing the work of the Pakeha in 1918, when he attempted to persuade the Waikato tribes to comply with conscription. The Waikato replied with the ultimate gesture of contempt when they performed a naked haka (war dance) on the marae to their unwelcome guest.

The initiative then passed to the prophet-leader Ratana. His movement was essentially a continuation of the theme of organised group following based on a charismatic leader. But unlike Te Whiti and Rua who pursued separate development, Ratana, as did the intellectuals, sought to advance the Maori cause through the political process by capturing the four Maori seats and delivering them to the government he had prophesied for carpenters, blacksmiths and shoemakers (Henderson 1963:58). The liaison with Labour appeared to bear fruit in the form of social security, family benefits and pensions. But the failure of Ratana's petition (supported by 30,128 signatures) to have the Treaty of Waitangi ratified indicated that - 275 the Pakeha in power was as obdurate as ever in dealing with Maori rights. The petition lay in the House for eight years until it was dealt with by a select committee. The committee recommended that the treaty be published as a sacred reaffirmation, with copies to be hung in all schools of the Dominion.

Contemporary Maori Activism

In the last century, the dynamic of Maori self-determination centred on the rangatira (fighting chiefs) and charismatic prophet-leaders. Thereafter, the intellectuals were tried and found wanting, so there was a temporary return to Ratana the prophet-leader. As the well-spring of benefits from the Ratana-Labour liaison dried up, pursuit of the prophet theme for temporal salvation came to an end. After the Second World War, the urban migration produced a new generation of leaders more suited to their times.

The potency of contemporary Maori leaders is derived from their better knowledge of the institutional structures of metropolitan society. In the vanguard of the new wave of Maori leadership in the early 1950s was the Maori Women's Welfare League. The major thrust of the League was to improve Maori health, child care and pre-school education. But the League also produced a barrage of remits at its annual conferences aimed at influencing Government policy.

In 1962 the Maori Council was formed, to act as an advisory body to the Government on Maori policy. In the next two decades it developed considerable skill in monitoring Parliament, scrutinising legislation and making submissions to ministers and select committees of the House. The League and the Council were the conservative expressions of Maori activism, pursuing Maori rights within the framework of the parliamentary system.

For the Maori, the urban experience has, in Freire's terms, led to knowledge of the alienating culture, which leads to transforming action, resulting in a culture which is being freed from alienation (Freire 1972:149). The result of this knowledge is diversification of Maori activism, making it more difficult for metropolitan society to co-opt Maori leadership. Furthermore, the existence of radical activists enables those at the conservative end of the political spectrum to win some concessions from metropolitan society. In previous generations, the initiative in dealing with the Pakeha was taken by chiefs, prophets, charismatic leaders and the educated elite. The Maori Council and the Maori Women's Welfare League were a continuation of elitist leadership. However, in the last 15 years, Maori activism has become the concern of a more diverse group of people, including Maori youth.

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In 1968, a radical Maori group in Wellington published a newsletter called Te Hokioi (after a mythical bird). It described itself as “a taiaha (weapon) of truth for the Maori nation”. Its motto was “Publish and be damned”. A strong trade-union connection evident in the newsletter aligned the Maori struggle against oppression with the ideology of the class struggle.

The newsletter functioned as a consciousness-raising mechanism concerning the role of the Maori Trustee in the control of Maori assets and private exploitation of Maori resources, such as greenstone in the Arahura Reserve.

Another Maori activist group domiciled in Wellington published a newsletter under the name of Maori Organisation on Human Rights. The aims of MOOHR were essentially humanist. These included the defence of human rights against oppression, attacking legislation inimical to Maori rights and opposition to discrimination in housing, employment, sport and politics. MOOHR also advocated the recovery from Government control of resources such as Maori Reserved lands administered by the Maori Trustee. In its August 1971 newsletter, MOOHR made an unequivocal assertion of the Maori dynamic of self-determination, and postulated a continuation of Maori-Pakeha tension because of it: “These movements of Maori rights to run Maori affairs will continue so long as Maori people feel oppressed by Pakeha-dominated governments”. This statement was a portent of the rising tide of Maori consciousness in the next decade and an escalation of activism.

The radical thrust of Te Hokioi and MOOHR was amplified by the new wave of youthful, aggressive and dynamic Maori leaders. Out of the 1970 Young Maori Leaders Conference at Auckland University emerged Nga Tamatoa (the young warriors). Initially, a radical faction grabbed the headlines with its rhetoric of “brown power” and “Maori liberation”. But it was the more level-headed leaders who established a positive programme of Maori initiative and self-development. The group initiated a legal-aid programme, opened an employment office in Auckland, and launched a nation-wide petition for recognition of the Maori language in the education system. The members of Tamatoa were young (under 30), urban-educated, and adept at using techniques such as petitions, demonstrations and pickets to bring about transforming social action.

For instance, the one-year teacher-training course for native speakers of Maori was inspired by Tamatoa to meet the shortfall of Maori language teachers following the introduction of the “link” system for teaching the language in primary and secondary schools. The transforming effect of Tamatoa on the Department of Maori Affairs is difficult to gauge. Whereas the conservative Maori Council, in its sub- - 277 missions on the Race Relations Bill, demanded that Maori criteria be written into the job prescription of District Officers in the department, Tamatoa translated this demand into action by demonstrating at the Auckland office when a non-Maori District Officer arrived to take up his appointment. In the last five years, the management profile of the department has changed dramatically, with the promotion of Maori employees from the lower and middle levels of the hierarchy to senior posts.

In retrospect, Tamatoa was merely the conservative portent of Maori activism to come. The erosion of Maori land rights by a century of legislation under the Maori Land Court, the Public Works Act, the Rating Act and the Town and Country Planning Act fuelled Maori anger, as these laws continued to alienate what was deemed to be the “last three million acres” of Maori land. Although localised Maori land grievances were common enough, the seventies saw these grievances welded into a cohesive Maori land-rights movement under the name of Matakite o Aotearoa (the seers of prophetic vision). In 1975, Matakite led a Maori Land March of 30,000 people to Parliament under the slogan “Not One More Acre of Land” (to be alienated).

Pakeha confusion over the Maori Land March had hardly subsided when Bastion Point was occupied by the Orakei Action Committee in January 1977. For 507 days protesters defied the Government and the Supreme Court, to dramatise the unconscionable dealings of past Governments over the 280 ha of Maori land in the Auckland garden suburb of Orakei, declared “inalienable” by the Native Land Court in 1873, but bought up by the Crown over a 50-year period. The agony of Bastion Point was brought to an end on May 25, 1978, with the most powerful show of state force (600 police) against Maori people since the dismemberment of Parihaka in 1881.

A year later, the uneasy peace in Maori-Pakeha relations was disturbed by a new wave of Maori activists, known under various guises as the Waitangi Action Committee, He Taua, Maori People's Liberation Movement of Aotearoa, and Black Women. These groups, domiciled in Auckland, claim to be discrete entities but have a considerable overlap in membership. Their political ethos is based on a liberation struggle against racism, sexism, capitalism and government oppression. While the rhetoric of these groups in their newsletters is couched in revolutionary terms, their activism embraces all tactics in the repertoire of activists the world over, but stops short of armed revolution. Their conception of revolution is social change now, as against the slow process of evolutionary change. In pursuit of their programme of struggle and liberation, these activists circulate newsletters to politicise people and elicit support. - 278 They also engage in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, which often lead to arrest, in order to dramatise their struggle. In court, they go on the offensive by defending themselves and challenging their accusers face to face rather than per medium of a third party. In their submissions, they take the opportunity to make political points, and generally challenge the fairness of the judicial system, by accusing police witnesses of lying, and judges of accepting their lies.

The Waitangi Action Committee continued the protests at the annual Waitangi Treaty celebrations started by Tamatoa earlier in the decade. In May 1979, some members of this group, subsequently known as He Taua (avenging party), attacked the engineers' haka party at Auckland University. For over 20 years the engineers had staged a mock war dance as part of the annual capping-day festivities. For 10 years Maori students had tried to stop the mock haka. Eventually, the Auckland University Students Association requested in writing that the engineers desist. The engineers persisted, so the haka party was disowned and condemned by the Association. He Taua subsequently raided the engineering school, and in five minutes of direct action stopped this gross cultural insult where years of patient negotiation had failed. But the trouble with this form of activism is that its proponents were put at risk with the law. Fourteen people were charged with rioting, and the defendants could have landed heavy prison sentences, had not the conservative leaders of the Maori Council and Maori Women's Welfare League stood by them in court. Other dramatic events which drew attention to mounting Maori anger were riots against the police by disco-kids in Te Atatu and Whangarei, and a violent confrontation between the Stormtrooper gang and police at Moerewa.

Maori activism took a new turn in May 1980, when a group called Maranga Mai toured the country with a play dramatising Maori grievances. There were hostile Pakeha reactions. In South Auckland, the Manukau City Council threatened to dismiss its detached youth worker for arranging the show at Mangere College. The Minister of Education, without having seen the play, threatened to ban it from schools. In September, when it was performed at Parliament Buildings, one member lodged a complaint with the Race Relations Conciliator. The complaint was not upheld.

Associated with all the events of Maori activism in the decade of the 1970s was the resignation of the Hon. Matiu Rata from the Labour Party late in 1979. His subsequent resignation from Parliament to found the Mana Motuhake movement is the political expression of contemporary Maori activism. It signalled the divorce of the Ratana Church from the Labour Party and the determination of the activists to capture and control - 279 the four Maori seats. It would be the ultimate in political achievement for a minority to capture those four seats to express a “balance of responsibility” in the event of a divided House. Such a possibility was beyond the foresight of the prophet Ratana, otherwise he would not have aligned the four seats in an arid 40-year partnership with Labour. The name Mana Motuhake revives in limited form the concept of Maori sovereignty. The essence of its policy is Maori control over Maori resources and the cultural future of the Maori within a dual or bicultural society. Mana Motuhake is essentially conservative, reformist and collaborative, as evidenced by this statement of its president, the Hon. Matiu Rata, in his introduction to the movement's manifesto:

Mana Motuhake is dedicated to a philosophy of self-help. We vow to advance our people from the present state of dependence to one of self-reliance. We believe what good we do for our people will be good for the country as a whole. That will be our contribution to the joint enterprise of Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand. We will be guided by the values and philosophy of our ancestors in formulating policies that are co-operative, inclusive and sharing.

It is 90 years since Kotahitanga mo Te Tiriti o Waitangi sought limited sovereignty to control Maori affairs in Maori districts. Now that the concept has been revived by Mana Motuhake and redefined, it has been taken up by the new wave of Maori activists. Its most articulate advocate, Donna Awatere, defines Maori sovereignty as:

. . . the Maori ability to determine our own destiny and to do so from the basis of our land and fisheries. In essence Maori sovereignty seeks nothing less than the acknowledgement that New Zealand is Maori land, and further seeks the return of that land. At its most conservative it could be interpreted as the desire for a bicultural society, one in which taha Maori (Maori culture) receives an equal consideration with, and equally determines the course of this country as taha Pakeha. It certainly demands an end to monoculturalism (Awatere 1982:38).

Awatere's definition of Maori sovereignty is clearly rooted in the long tradition of Maori activism in the 142 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Whereas the original proponents of Maori sovereignty sought its establishment by coexistence, Awatere's advocacy takes on a hard and even desperate edge:

For the Maori, without sovereignty we are dead as a nation. It is not sovereignty or no sovereignty. It is sovereignty or nothing. We have no choice (Awatere 1982:42).

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Maori activism, as this paper demonstrates, is not an aberration of our times. Its genesis goes back to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, when the tribal chiefs were misled into signing away their sovereignty in a document that has never been ratified or recognised as a treaty of international law. The dynamic of Maori activism is mana motuhake, the sovereignty of the Maori nation proclaimed by the election of a Maori King in 1858. Although Maoris envisaged their King as having co-equal status with the Governor under the British Crown, the Governor sought to extend British sovereignty into Maori areas by waging the Land Wars of the 1860s. Thereafter, the history of Maori activism was characterised by the creation of ad hoc movements, in a restless search by Maori leaders to recover and reassert their lost sovereignty.

The Maori Parliament sought mana motuhake (separate sovereignty) in Maori districts from the colonial Government, under the Treaty of Waitangi and Section 71 of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. When that was denied, the concept of mana motuhake lapsed into the limbo of Maori consciousness, as educated leaders collaborated with the leaders of metropolitan society to promote a revival of Maori culture and participation in the social mainstream.

The post-war urban migration of the 1960s threw up a new generation of Maori leaders who created a series of movements for the expression of the dynamic Maori sovereignty. The verbal symbols for that sovereignty changed to Maori self-determination to control Maori land, assets and cultural destiny. The political expression of that dynamic is the Mana Motuhake movement whose avowed intention is to capture and control the four Maori seats in Parliament. Mana Motuhake is essentially conservative, and, like its predecessor Kotahitanga mo te Tiriti o Waitangi, aims to co-operate within the framework of the existing political system. Now the new wave of Maori activists has unequivocally reopened the issue of Maori sovereignty.

Maori activism has been characteristically ad hoc and episodic in nature, so that Pakeha New Zealanders have perhaps been beguiled into assuming the problem will go away or die a natural death. It is now abundantly evident that this is not the case, so some accommodation from the rulers of metropolitan society to the dynamic of Maori self-determination is needed to arrive peacefully at a modus vivendi. The alternative is to have the peace of the land disturbed by continuing episodic protest activity and escalating repression by the use of state force.

  • Awatere, Donna, 1982. On Maori Sovereignty. Broadsheet, No. 100. Auckland.
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