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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

The native land question and its solution

page 4

The Native Land Question

And its Solution.

The above subject I notice is being disbased in your columns, and perhaps you all permit me, as one who knows, to make few observations. I have lived in this [unclear: itive] district for ten years, and have had [unclear: ig] that time, as well as previously, ex-[unclear: leu] professional experience as a solicitor [unclear: n] Native land business; and as the subject [unclear: imittedly] one of paramount importance [unclear: in] the advancement and prosperity of the [unclear: eth] Island—indeed of the colony—it is [unclear: e] to have it looked at from every point of view.

The universal demand is that some just [unclear: rt] simple and easy mode of acquiring Native [unclear: d] shall be devised, by which the risks, [unclear: lay], and expense hitherto incurred shall [unclear: e] avoided, with a view to the speedy [unclear: element] and occupation of the land. The [unclear: gnosis] is certain, but the doctors [unclear: premie] various remedies. The two principal [unclear: medies] may be shortly described as (I [unclear: iivilualisation] of titles, and (2) [unclear: ascertainent] of title, and dealings, by Maori [unclear: Comiliees].

1. There is something to be said for the [unclear: st] proposed remedy, because during the [unclear: at] 25 or 30 years we have been steadily [unclear: tructing] the Native mind to take in the [unclear: n] of individual title to land, of which it [unclear: ad] no notion previously; and, like 'cute [unclear: abers] of the human family as they are, [unclear: the] Natives have now thoroughly learned [unclear: their] lesson. This process of education has [unclear: t] length created an insuperable obstacle to [unclear: nging] back to the old tribal methods; [unclear: ed] it many therefore be fairly argued that if [unclear: there] is to be simplication it must be on the [unclear: es] of such teaching. Unfortunately, how-[unclear: et], there are two formidable practical [unclear: ilties]. The first is the great delay [unclear: sh] the process of ascertaining title and [unclear: ividing] the land in the Native Laud [unclear: rt] entails, before each Native owner have his share cut out. This takes its generally to accomplish, in the few where it is attempted. The second is, II the expense in every case—excepting [unclear: haps] that of a valuable block near a town greater than the value of the land. [unclear: nary] country land cannot stand the cost [unclear: rey] and completion of individual title, [unclear: d] the Native owners therefore, in practice, [unclear: ds] not individualize titles. Unless a block [unclear: s] of very exceptional value, and is so [unclear: situed] that very small parcels of land are sought after, land is invariably owned in common. So that though the phrase "individualization of title" is attractive and sounds well, the thing itself is impracticable. Often it is no more than a convenient phrase to play with before people who do not know.

2. The other proposed remedy is attractive too, and sounds well. It would be useless to propose it if not attractive. Corporations, all the world over, are reputed to be without conscience, even among the highly civilized and refined peoples; and it needs little knowledge of Maori character to predict confidently that the conscience of a Maori corporation would be very elastic in dealing with Maori lands not their own. There is I believe sometimes a little doubt about the Land Boards of the colony running straight—absolutely straight—notwithstanding stringent legislation, elaborate rules and regulations, and heavy penalties, and even although the press of the colony, as well as members of the Legislature, watch them with lynx eyes. But the difficulties of keeping them running straight would not be a patch upon what would be necessary in the case of Maori Committees, whose dealings would necessarily be in secret—anyway much out of view, or in the shade. How simple it would be to obtain an indefeasible title to land from a Maori Corporation! Hitherto, with individual dealing, the power of Backsheesh has been very effective; but it has been pretty nearly always Backsheesh—more Backsheesh—and still more Backsheesh. With the corporation the thing would probably be more easily, certainly more quickly, done. Quite likely it would still be Backsheesh, more Backsheesh, and still more Backsheesh; but the goal would be reached without unnecessary delay and intense anxiety. The needful cash could be made as bandy as the corporation seal. The latter does not take long to affix, and it has statutory virtue. And then it is a Board that does it all! There would be no risk. It would simply be a case of voting this way or that way, and the transaction is complete. Mr ("adman undoubtedly states the fact when he says Native Committees are not to be trusted. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect of them any high standard of virtue or honesty.

A part, however, from all this, there is the fatal difficulty I have already indicated. The individual Native owners have now been taught to understand what property in land means and can give them. And everyday page 2 transactions proves that they decline to allow their chiefs or Committees to dispose of their land. It would be grossly wrong, as well as futile, to attempt to coerce them into placing their interests in the hands of Committees of their own number.

The truth is neither of the proposed remedies is "worth a cent!" They are not remedies at all. Then what is a remedy? There is only one remedy, and that is to declare all land belonging to Natives, which has not been Crown Granted or brought under The Land Transfer Act, to be Crown land, exactly as unalienated land, the property of the nation, is Crown land, and to be dealt with as such; with this one difference, that it is to be held in trust for the Natives, and the proceeds derived accounted for and paid to them. As a recompense for such a valuable service rendered to them by the State a proper charge would have to be made; and an equivalent would also have to be given by them to the State, in land or otherwise, for expenditure on roads, bridges and railways made for opening up territory. Elected Maori representatives ought to sit as members of the various Land Boards in Native districts or where there is Native Land. If our land system be good for administration of Crown land for the nation, it cannot be bad for the administration of the land of the Natives, who are a part of the nation. Hut Humbug wont admit that; Speculation rouses up at the mention of it; and Law—will Lawyers always do the right thing. Simplification is quite in our line.

What good would result from the adoption of such a system of dealing with Native land? To mention some benefits:
1.It would be an immense boon to the Natives; they would quickly appreciate its great advantages, and would readily assent to it. "The West Coast Settlement Reserves Act, 1892," is a remarkable object lesson to the Maoris, and soon they will cry out for Crown administration of their land all round.
2.It has the recommendation of being an honest way of treating the Natives.
3.Investigation of Native title, so called, in so far as there are now any titles to investigate, would be very quickly completed, because the question being only a question of division of money, not land, the usual wrangling before the Native land Court would be dropped. The Native Land Court would be very little wanted. Some old business might have to be worked off; successors to dead people would have to be appointed. But [unclear: most] it might be done by the local [unclear: Resi] Magistrate.
5.Settlement of Native lands would] go on apace: every man [unclear: requi] land would have an opportunity getting it; and the Maoris [unclear: inste] dying off would be absorbed into European population.

It is true that Native land [unclear: dealing] practically stopped by recent [unclear: legisy] restricting alienation, and operating a mild kind of resumption of the pre-[unclear: emj] right by the Crown; but at best [unclear: tie] unsafe, slow, and unsatisfactory as a [unclear: rem] while it is unjust to the Native owners. [unclear: T] there can be no permanency in any [unclear: me] excepting that of declaring the whole [unclear: th] Crown land.

Of course there is one alternative to Crown alone dealing, which would [unclear: pas] quickly bring about the disposal of [unclear: na] land—free trade in Native land, [unclear: absen] free trade: that is to say, every [unclear: man]; himself and Devil take the hindmost, [unclear: per] ticularly the Maori. It is, however, [unclear: si] ing to contemplate what would happen; [unclear: t] it is a satisfaction to know, or believe; [unclear: t] the New Zealand Legislature will not [unclear: pa] free trade in Native land.—I am, &c.,

W. [unclear: Sievwright]


[New Zealand Herald, 14th February, [unclear: 1893]

Sir,—I am tempted, although at [unclear: a] tance, to amplify on one or two points [unclear: w] I said in my letter which appeared [unclear: is] Herald of the 6th instant, because of [unclear: y] query in a leader on the 7th—"Can [unclear: t] done now?" It requires legislation, [unclear: an] doubt there's the rub; but [unclear: Parliament] only to say the word. To my mind all good, and none of the ill, which [unclear: all] method will give rise to, would be [unclear: att] by Crown administration. Further. [unclear: t] would be essentially in accordance [unclear: with] Treaty of Waitangi, conserving the [unclear: inte] of the Natives while opening up the [unclear: w] Native territory to European [unclear: occup] speedily. The last is the important [unclear: t] sideration.

Suppose Parliament, with wisdom [unclear: a] foresight as I think, were next [unclear: session] declare Native land to be Crown land [unclear: be] in trust for the Natives, what would [unclear: t] pen? Assume the Natives to be [unclear: ag] such a policy—which is a huge and [unclear: u] ranted assumption -would they rise [unclear: p] rebellion? Of course not. They [unclear: w] page 3 [unclear: ply] give in and accommodate themselves the change. This, however, would also [unclear: ppen] speculation in Native land would [unclear: e] stopped, and thus the only real obstacle [unclear: the] adoption of a high-minded and wise [unclear: y] be removed.

You suggest a difficulty as to apportioning [unclear: ceds] among the Natives. It is not to be [unclear: pposed] that even under Crown [unclear: administaion] everything will go on like clockwork, [unclear: t] were will be the minimum of friction [unclear: d] difficulty. But on this subject it must [unclear: be] forgotten that now the ownership of [unclear: tly] all the Native land has been ascer-[unclear: eal], and the remainder is being very [unclear: lly] put through. And wherever the [unclear: crs] have been ascertained apportionment [unclear: simple] enough, because it is known who is [unclear: led;] and as I have said the local [unclear: ent] Magistrate could settle any dis-[unclear: te] that might arise.

As to reserves, the Natives have now [unclear: ly] more reserves than they make use [unclear: nt] give them more if found desirable, [unclear: if] they wish more.—I am, etc..

W. Stevwright.


New Zealand Herald, 14th February, 1893.]

Sir,—While fully alive to the importance [unclear: n] simplicity of the method of acquiring [unclear: ve] land suggested by Mr Napier, viz., [unclear: ing] it compulsorily as required, paying [unclear: te], let us frankly face the difficulties at-[unclear: ending] it. I propose to notice one or [unclear: to]:—
1.To carry out the suggestion thoroughly, [unclear: I] avoid a double system of land dealing—[unclear: by] the Crown, and one by the Native [unclear: ers] (a most undesirable state of things)—[unclear: er] all the land would need to be taken at [unclear: e] and paid for at a fair value, or else it [unclear: will] be necessary, while taking some for [unclear: liate] requirements, simultaneously to [unclear: be] it Natives from dealing with the re-[unclear: nler]—in short to, practically, resume [unclear: e] pre-emuptive right in a very arbitrary [unclear: te]. We dare not attempt to do such a [unclear: ing] with Europeans and their land; we [unclear: ting] not prohibit Europeans from selling [unclear: e] land when and to whom they please. [unclear: Was] should Native landowners be treated [unclear: te] wise?
2.Then, will Parliament be prepared to wide money or debentures sufficient to [unclear: iv] up all the land of the Natives at once? [unclear: u] roughly, 8,00,000 acres, at 5s per acre, [unclear: e] 2,000,000. Nothing is to be gained by [unclear: ing]. Settlement of the land is really all [unclear: country] wants or cares for, and that alone is the great object to be attained under any method.
3.We cannot stop short at taking the land of the Natives for settlement purposes. The same principle must be applied to the land of Europeans when such land is required for settlement; and, moreover, the price to be paid to Europeans must not be more than relatively equal. Injustice ought not to be done to either class of landowners as to price.

These are real and practical objections. Is the game worth the candle? The objections are avoided by the proposed method of vesting the land in the Crown in trust. The land would then be disposed of as required; there would be no need for the Crown to find purchase money; the question of interfering with the land of Europeans is left undisturbed in the meantime at least, though it may not be for long; and, further, the question of rating Native land is not raised, as the land will be rated as it gets into European occupation, or actual occupation, like Crown land.—I am, &c.,

W. Sievwright.


[New Zealand Herald, 4th March, 1893.]

Sir,—Two matters require some reply—(1) the effect of the Treaty of Waitangi, referred to by yourself, and" (2) alleged Native opposition—by bullets, etc. The Treaty of Waitangi—which certainly ought not to be broken down by legislation—did this: On the one hand, the Maoris ceded to the Queen the full sovereignty of New Zealand with all that that implies, and also a right of preemption of such land as the Natives themselves wished to sell. On the other hand, the Maoris, in consideration thereof, were declared British subjects, with all the rights, duties, and privileges of such, and were guaranteed protection and the peaceable possession of their land, etc. Literally, of course, the Maoris have never had, and do not now have possession in any proper sense of more than a fraction of the Native territory; they do not use it in any way; it is a waste howling wilderness, on which scarcely any of them ever set foot. Will any reasonable man contend that what the Crown became bound to do was to exercise its Sovereign power to retard or prevent this waste howling wilderness from being used? Or that the Maoris themselves intended anything else than that they were to be helped to turn it to account? The preemption given to the Queen, and the sales of vast tracts thereafter, proves the intention and object of the Natives. The very founding page 4 of the colony implied it. The scheme of vesting the land in the Crown in trust is not intended to deprive them of this waste bowling wilderness, hut to give them that Which as British subjects they are entitled to, viz., a suitable method of dealing with their land and turning it to account. If their land belonged to English people how would the law deal with it on the application Of anyone interested? It is admitted on all hands that it is impracticable to subdivide and cut out each man's share; and in that case the English law of partition provides that such land shall either continue to be held and dealt with in common, or if that be inexpedient that it shall he disposed of and the proceeds divided. Unquestionably the Native owners, as a rule, are as anxious as Europeans to have the land dealt with it they only were shown how to do so in some useful and efficient way. The scheme pro-posed is that efficient way; and under it their real interests will be far more effectively conserved than ever they have been or than they ever can be under any other method. And this would not create Maori landlordism, for the State would be the landlord, if any-one, just as in the case of Crown land.

Will the Maori oppose this reasonable plan? The bullet bogey has been heard of before, but the type of Maori who at one time might have used the bullet is not now existent. The modern Maori knows better, and will take care of his own skin. Even if opposed, which I emphatically maintain he is not, the modem Maori is little Influenced by sentiment. He, like the European, prefers money; only show him how, for his land, he can get a money return, and he will fall in with the plan at once. It is an unjustifiable assumption that the Natives will not fall in with the plan proposed. The times are ripe for it. They know their land must now be used; they are fully alive to the imminence of taxation of their land [see evidence given before Native Land Commission in 1891]; and they only want to have the proposed plan put before them to jump at it. On the West Coast the Natives urged that all their extensive reserves there should be taken out of their names and vested in the Public Trustee, to be dealt with for them. It gave the utmost satisfaction. Why should it be assumed that other Native owners will not thankfully accept as good an arrangement, if not a better? Opposition, after all, is only a bogey, even when sincerely put forward by such good men as Dr Maun-sell, who I suspect only think of, and live as it were in, long past times.—I am, &c.,

W. Sievwright.


New Zealand Herald, th March, 1893.)

Sir,—Controversy is unprofitable at [unclear: bes] As Burton says, it is like cutting off a [unclear: hydra] head, "one begets another, so many [unclear: dup] cations, triplications, and swarms of [unclear: que] tions." It is particularly unprofitable [unclear: a] obnoxious when your opponent, with [unclear: co] assurance, makes you seem to say what [unclear: y] never said; hangs up your effigy, as it [unclear: wer] in the public square labelled in large [unclear: chara] ters, "This man swears that black is white then very easily proves you wrong, and [unclear: ther] upon decapitates you. That is Mr [unclear: Rec] "easy solution" of me and my proposition in regard to this question in his letter of [unclear: l] instant, which I have read to-day in [unclear: you] issue of 7th instant. He represents me [unclear: i] proposing that Native land shall be [unclear: declar] Crown land, without qualification. [unclear: H] writes:—"When the great estates held [unclear: I] individuals and by business corporation and, indeed, all freeholds are declared [unclear: k] statute to be Crown lands, then Mr [unclear: Sie] Wright's proposals regarding Native [unclear: land] will be equitable, because all will be [unclear: treate] alike." "They amount, if not to confiscate at least to something very much [unclear: resembing] that process." Now, my proposed [unclear: rened] is to declare Native land Crown land, [unclear: "he] in trust for the Natives, and the [unclear: procesed] derived accounted for and paid to [unclear: them] There is certainly no such equity in [unclear: sto] for the Natives it Mr Rees' proposed Native Committees have any effective power [unclear: given] to them.

But if the great estates referred to [unclear: we] in the same position as to ownership [unclear: a] Native land, the remedy would be the [unclear: same] The owners being unable to manage [unclear: to] themselves, the proper authority [unclear: wo] mange for them, or appoint someone to [unclear: be] so. That is all the Crown would do for [unclear: the] Natives.

I am not, however, going to prolong [unclear: the] discussion of this question, as the issue [unclear: e] now pretty clearly before the public, [unclear: The] only pity is that so many of the public [unclear: rege] this question as the one they ought not [unclear: t] meddle with, as one which only experts [unclear: un-] derstand or can deal with. The sooner [unclear: they] think otherwise the better.

In conclusion, I, too, like Mr Rees, "[unclear: res] ture to warn the people of Auckland and [unclear: of] New Zealand against being dazzled or [unclear: left] away by any apparently simple," if [unclear: has] heroic, method of settliug the Native [unclear: has] question, which stops short of giving to [unclear: the] Crown the absolute and exclusive control [unclear: of] "dealings" with Native land as if it [unclear: n] Crown land. If the Native Land Laws [unclear: Pa] form League will work for that end. [unclear: and] page 5 close every door against opportunity for speculation in Native land, it will deserve well of the country.—I am, &c,

W. Sievwright.


(The Editor Poverty Bay Herald.)

Sir,—In your leader last night you are not fair to the Administration Act of 1886 when you say that under it "a man with small means would have absolutely no chance of obtaining an acre," and when you clearly imply that under it the land would not pass through the Crown, Section 29 expressly provides that the Commissioner shall dispose of the land "in accordance with the provisions of the Land Act 1885, or of any Act passed in substitution thereof, and he (the Commissioner that is) shall have all the powers of a Land Board." And section 33 prohibits private persons from acquiring land direct from the Natives. A man of small means could of course acquire through the Commissioner, just as he could from a Land Board. These are the strong points of the Act, and its virtues ought to he acknowledged. Its weak points are:—(1) the voluntary character of its provisions—Natives need not have come under it unless they liked, might keep rloof as long as they liked; and (2) the powers given to Committees to direct the Commissioner as to land to he dealt with, and the terms on which the same might he disposed of. Not-withstanding, in my opinion it was by far the best scheme embodied in legislation upon the lines of Native Committee manage-ment. Its weak points really only spring from an evident desire to act justly to the Natives, and to carry them along with the forward movement. If there is to be com-promise at all il must be in the same direction though in my opinion Native Committee management in any shape or form will only and in smoke, if nothing worse.—I am, &c.,

W. Sievwright.


(The Editor Poverty Bay Herald.)

Sir,—Your leader last night tempts me to say that you hardly do the "Devil's Brigade" justice. That brigade, regarded as a whole, is a fair reflex of the community, to my mind, because unquestionably the objectionable ones exist on the ordinary principle of demand and supply, and there must be at least a section of the community which re-quires them. My only complaint as to the profession, in the letter referred to, was the opposition almost always shown by it to anything like simplification. A recent writer says that it is more difficult to get a now idea into the mind of an Englishman than it is to get the proverbial joke into the head of a Scotchman; and that, I think, is eminently true of the English lawyer. He is mentally saturated, as it were, with musty precedents, and it is quite natural to him to refuse to see any advantage in moving out of the beaten track. Hence ho needs to be driven by lay pressure into reformation of any kind. No better illustration of this can well be got than the fact that a young community like New Zealand, full of energy and push, can sit down and patiently acquiesce in the existence of such an incubus as our half-yearly itinerant Supreme Court, with its delays and expense, and general cumbrousness, all the fruit, specially, of the legal mind. One would expect that the settlement of disputes quickly and cheaply by a good local Court, with an appeal on facts, is a thing such a community requires. No doubt it is so. Yet we are all content to leave things alone. Why? Just because we have it. The same thing is applicable to Native legislation. But it is only fair to the devil's own to add that, if Native legislation had always been shaped finally by the lawyers, it would have been at any rate consistent, or fairly consistent, as a whole. It was never so though, for after a Bill came out of the legal draftsman's hands, it was invariably tossed about in Committee by all sorts of people, particularly by the "export" members who looked at it in some particular interest, or with some special object to be served, until the draftsman's work was hardly recognisable. Of course a tangled maze of legislation was the result. Why should you accuse the lawyers of having "a double sin to answer for in this Native business?'" They have no doubt enough to answer for; but Parliament alone is answerable for the making of the laws; and it must be admitted that it hss always been an extremely difficult business to interpret the laws so made. Editors, I believe, are more or less given to dogmatise, and they can always construct a telling paragraph by making a serapegoat of the lawyers. You might now give the wlly Native land purchaser a turn, he who "needs and uses the lawyer. Fair play is a jewel, day Could, you know, never came to the front when he had any big public robbery on hand: he always accomplished his nefarious work by using weaker men. So does the wily ative land purchaser. All Native land purchasers are not wily of course.—I am, &c.,

W. Sievwright.


Printed at the "Poverty Bay Herald" office Gisborne.