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

Tribal pressure

Tribal pressure

Maori outside the party condemned Langstone even more strongly than those within. His focus on 'national good' land development, for example, revived fears dating back to original Labour policies that further raupatu, via land nationalisation, was on the government agenda. Petroleum legislation in 1938 added to their concerns. In the view of several leaders (including Ngata), this amounted to confiscation of natural resources from Maori. Thus, before most 'old grievances' had been attended to, new ones were being created in the 'public good'.

Waikato–Tainui's settlement, negotiated in the dying days of the Forbes–Coates administration, was to be one of parity with the Taranaki settlement, £5000 a year. It was the fact that a Kingmaker-led faction had opposed a monetary settlement in favour of land-based reparation that had given officials ammunition to 'take the initiative' in persuading the new Labour administration to withdraw from the arrangement. The iwi was possibly about to insist on a land transfer component, they argued – all the more reason why grievances should be conceded only if found to be legally sound. Ministers were not, in the event, prepared to go that far, recognising that the issue was in Maori eyes one of moral justice – and so needed to be met with political expediency rather than viewed legalistically. Savage would specifically reassure Waikato–Tainui leaders, in both 1936 and 1937, that postponement of their claim did not mean that the Crown was reneging on its promises, and that the settlement proposals of the previous government constituted his bottom line. But page 177the officials' initiative meant that damage to Crown-tribal relations had occurred.

In the government's reaffirmation that it intended settling claims centred on historical grievances, regardless of whether or not it was legally obliged to, it accepted that settlements would be tribally based. This was neither an endorsement of the virtues of a collective lifestyle, nor the reflection of a desire to give iwi or sub-iwi groupings an economic base. Rather, it related to more practical concerns. In particular, settlements would, it hoped, repair the damage to the whole body politic caused by the existence of tribal grievances, which were regularly recited on marae and pervaded communal oral history. It was assessed that socio-racial (and therefore national) 'progress' would be impeded until they were resolved.

Another (if lesser) motivation was relieving the state of an actual and potential welfare burden. It was generally believed in official (and wider) circles that 'Maoris spend money like water'. This had been factored into decisions to pay benefits in lesser amounts for Maori. If tribes were given adequate resources, some felt, Maori could reprogramme their spending habits and even aspire to reach socio-economic parity with pakeha in a decade or two. Whatever the case, if reparations to tribal organisations could also help contain the total amount of welfare expenditure, two purposes could be served by one mechanism.

Such considerations dominated the bureaucrats' contributions to a 1937 government round-table conference to consider indigenous claims. As with similar affairs convened by earlier governments, the Maori delegates tended to be those the Crown felt comfortable with. To considerable protest, moreover, they were deemed by the organisers to represent specified groupings of tribes. Given their lack of meaningful mandate, there could be no tangible result. The Crown therefore considered taking a more conciliatory approach. In February 1938 it convened in Wellington a series of conferences with tribal representatives to secure agreement for 'final' settlements. Langstone reiterated the major government reason for seeking settlement. Following reparations, the customary 'meetings in Pas and talk of illustrious ancestors' would no longer need to dwell on the past actions of the Crown. 'Good Maoris' page 178could stop 'looking backward' and instead, buoyed by state funding, progress towards modernity.

On this broad issue, Ratanaists and Ngataists were in accord with the government, feeling that, through compensation, Maori would stop brooding on the past and be able to participate in the opportunities presented by a country of 'equality'. Expression of such perspectives among generally pro-government Maori inspired Treasury and allied officials, since they were denied the option of refusing to settle, to present a new initiative: considering all claims at the same time, and fitting them into a totalised compensation sum. Reparations packages would be available to tribes only as lump sums – the preferred state option in its original offer to Waikato–Tainui. The reason was stated to be because annual sums would allegedly perpetuate negative memories and therefore 'backwardness', although financial factors were also involved. A 'discount for bulk' arrangement would save the state money in the long run, and a capital sum could be invested by its recipients to create a resource base. However attractive on the surface, the officials' initiative created new tensions in the Crown-Maori relationship. The suggestion not only introduced prospects of further delay, but incorporated an alarming argument: because of the establishment of the welfare state, any reparations needed to be only minimal.

It was clear that the actual grievances signified as little for the politicians who allowed officials to test out their new negotiating stances as for the Crown advisers themselves. Historical claims resolution was seen principally in terms of doing the minimum necessary to remove an impediment to achieving a society based on 'peace and good order'. This would lead to a country comprised of relatively socio-economically satisfied and hegemonised individuals whose aggregated happiness would lead to a 'normalised' daily existence in which profits could be pursued to maximal effect. At a Maori Labour conference in June 1938, Savage indicated acceptance of officials' advice that money alone would be offered as compensation, and stated that the government needed to work out how much could, in total, be afforded. Once this had been done, lumpsum claims would be compared, negotiated and settled. There was no longer to be even any discussion of return of land in compensation.

page 179

Quite apart from this, the unilateral settling of the parameters of negotiation, and Maori anger that the total amount of available compensation was to be assessed entirely in terms of what could allegedly be 'afforded' rather than what represented 'justice', yet another development was ominous from the perspective of rangatiratanga. When Koroki had become Maori King in 1933, he had authorised Tumate Mahuta to head the negotiations with the Crown. The Waikato–Tainui leadership had naturally continued to assume that it would select whomever it wished to represent it before the Crown. But the state's experience with tribally mandated representatives had not gone smoothly, and the tribes were now expected to agree that the Crown would decide on their representatives. The tension that ensued was exacerbated when Kingitanga reiterated its long-standing settlement guidelines: 'as land was taken so it shall be returned'. The relationship worsened further when it became clear that Labour's pledge to Tainui, that it would receive no less than the previous government's offer, was being interpreted in state circles as a promise to match the capitalised form of the previous regime's offer.

Aside from the issue of 'good faith' in negotiations, any formula to capitalise what would have been an in-perpetuity payment to a tribal confederation was more likely than ever to be exceedingly conservative in the context of a totalised compensation sum for all tribes. Indeed, by 1939 the Treasury was suggesting a total reparations payout of only £250,000. An intensified struggle with claimant tribes was clearly in the offing. If they were to accept the government's policy of lump-sum payments, Tainui and Ngai Tahu stated, they would require around £350,000–375,000 apiece. That Maori attitudes were hardening was reflected in the Labour Party itself, with growing disillusionment in a parliamentary leadership which – not very long before – had seemed to offer hope of positive action on behalf of, and in conjunction with, Maoridom. Only half of the Maori Labour committees were paying their affiliation fees, and a planned conference of Maori supporters had to be cancelled through lack of support.

Not only had the tribal rangatiratanga of the major raupatu confederations in particular been bruised, so too had the loyalty of the Maori party members been severely tested on this and other issues by the page 180government. But they did retain some hopes, fed by new ideas such as Mawhete's suggestion that a commission of judges be appointed to examine compensation for breaches of the Treaty. With the advent of the Second World War, however, internal party criticism of the leadership became subdued and negotiations with iwi were postponed by mutual consent until the 'national emergency' was over.

All the while, the three tribal groupings which had signed deals with the Crown continued to receive annual payments that were used for tribal purposes. Although the sums seem small from a later perspective, at the time they were seen as useful. And, more important, the precedent they represented continued to provide hope for other parts of Maoridom. Moreover, such precedents might be improved on, especially given the interim nature of the Taranaki's arrangement. Tribal trust boards, based on regular income (however minimal and circumscribed), were regarded as possible harbingers of a degree of state-sanctioned autonomy.100