Maori Ethnic Mobilization

Jennifer Lee '99 (English 27, Spring '97)

In both social matters and land matters, the Maori want the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi to be fulfilled on their terms. Even today they believe "the Treaty is always speaking", as it is the spirit of the Treaty, rather than its literal interpretation which is relevant today. Understandably, the Maori and the state are often at odds when it comes to Maori rights and claims. In addition, the Maori movement is facing tremendous opposition from the Pakeha majority who are not enthusiastic about giving up their lands, the establishment of special Maori services, or even the treaty itself. In a vote taken in 1987, these attitudes were quantified: 56% of those of Maori descent believed it was ėvery important' that the Treaty be taken into account by the government when it was making economic decisions while 27% of Pakeha thought it was ėnot very important' and another 26%, that it was ėnot at all important'. In addition, 64% of those Maori surveyed responded that they would like to see ėMaori land returned' whereas only 20% of Pakeha felt the same way

Clearly, by this time, Maori attitudes towards the Treaty of Waitangi were decidedly favorable. In earlier days of Maori activism, however, that was not necessarily the case. Throughout the 1970s and the early 80s, opinion was divided on the Treaty. Many Maori, if they had even heard of it, were convinced that it was nothing more than a colonial document without truth, signed by chiefs who didn't understand the terms or the potential ramifications, and therefore non-binding. Still, there was a large contingent comprised primarily of activists who were convinced that the Treaty represented the salvation of the Maori people. Regardless of whether or not the Maori people accepted the Treaty, though, a large pool of resentment had accumulated over years of perceived offenses and secondary citizen status. One way or another the time had come for a more radical Maori movement. The "discovery" of the Treaty merely lent the movement a stronger legal foundation on which it could base its claims.

In 1960, the Hunn report was issued to the government, recommending a policy of integration, that "differentiation between Maoris and Europeans in statute law should be reviewed at intervals and gradually eliminated." The state responded by merging Maori social services with general services and completing the integration of Maori lands into the land title system. In reaction, the 1970s saw a subsequent Maori backlash, whereby activists furiously brandished their Maoritanga, denying the assimilative forces of Pakeha society, and as . It was undeniably the most radical period of activism in Maori history, but the concept itself has been practiced by Maori since the signing of the Treaty. The more extreme notions that have surfaced in modern times, however, have grabbed the spotlight and have had a much greater effect on the considerably liberalized New Zealand government and society than have previous movements. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the Maori Women's Welfare League and the Maori Council, conservative bodies interested in working within the Pakeha framework to pursue Maori rights, were founded. But these organizations were essentially a continuation of the Maori elite which had always led traditional Maori groups and they proved inadequate for the rising generation of Maori activists whose experiences in a turbulent New Zealand society were considerably different. As David Pearson explains,

the conditions that exist in the urban core, together with perceptions of attachment to a past or present peripheral homeland, promote the rise of more radical ethnic leaders who challenge the legitimacy of the dominant state. This challenge is shaped by a moral imperative which embraces ideologies of ethnic and territorial self-determination. Moreover, state actions are likely to provoke a variety of responses from within or outside of its bureaucratic forms of ethnic representation... The constituency for such leadership in the increasing numbers of young, urban born, and often unemployed Maori and Pacific Island youth.

By the advent of the 1970s, then, there existed, among others, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a radical newsletter called Te Hokoi, the Maori Organisation on Human Rights (MOOHR), and Nga Tamatoa (the young warriors), an organization of aggressive and angry young people who pretty much redefined Maori activism. Inspired by the success of the civil rights movement in the United States and the rhetoric of labor unions and socialist organizations, the new wave of activists used sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations to convey their message of reform, often attracting the attention of New Zealand and international media. Perhaps the peak of activism occurred in 1975 when 30,000 people marched to Parliament under the slogan, "Not One More Acre of Maori Land." Clearly, the Maori population had been reawakened by the vitality and the conviction of the new Maori activists. There was of course a certain level of skepticism that came with the transfer of power from the old to the new, but in the end, it seemed that the Maori cause was well served by both.

Among Maori leaders secure in traditional authority there was a mixture of irritation and paternal indulgence towards outspoken younger peoples. But there was also a shrewd appreciation that Maori causes could be well served by the fission of apprehension which unruly dissident youth could provoke among complacent Pakeha. If some radical demands and behaviour were thought to be needlessly provocative, there was also admiration for their persistence, and a growing, if sometimes wavering, belief that even their apparently unrealistic goals were legitimate.

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