Today, we are strong enough and honest enough to… admit that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed. I look upon it as a legacy of promise. It can be a guide to… all those whose collective sense of justice, fairness and tolerance will shape the future.
In 1990, Queen Elizabeth II visited Waitangi and admitted that the Treaty had not been fulfilled on the part of the Crown. So what happened between 1840, and the promises made by Queen Victoria, and then, and how has that shaped the modern Māori?
In Part 1, we explored the events leading up to the signing of the Waitangi Treaty, but what happened subsequently was perhaps even more important at creating the modern New Zealand.
Māori culture has even impacted modern religion, as these stained glass windows in the Holy Trinity Cathedral show.
The Treaty promised that all land would remain in Māori hands unless purchased by the British Crown. However, today the Māori control less than 10% of their native country. Land confiscation began with the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, where land was seized both from participating and non-participating tribes as payment for minor skirmishes with relatively few casualties. The Native Land Acts were then passed, transferring ownership of Māori lands from being communal, as had been done for generations, to private, in an effort to facilitate more land sales to Europeans. By 1891, Māori owned just 17% of the land in New Zealand, according to the local land registry.
It is important to note that these land sales may or may not have been legal, as the Treaty specified that the only agent allowed to purchase land was the British Crown, which to this day has not done so. However, as these sales were largely made above boards, it is hard to argue the validity of each individual transaction, so when the Crown admits to mistakes in the Treaty, it is referring to the large-scale land confiscations rather than these smaller private sales.
Changing demographics in the second half of the nineteenth century added to the tension for the Māori. In 1840, at the time the Treaty was signed, Māori numbered between 50,000 and 70,000, compared to just 2,000 Europeans. By the 1896 census, the Māori population had dropped to just over 40,000, while Europeans numbered more than 700,000. Māori had largely sold or been driven off of the majority of the “good” land, and lived mainly in semi-isolated communities.
However, not all was bad for the Māori during this time period. In 1867, Parliament instituted four Māori seats, and gave all Māori men the right to vote. By comparison, universal suffrage for European men wasn’t achieved until 1879; until then it was reserved for landowners. (The Māori population would have warranted more seats, but this was the first instance of a local indigenous population being given Parliamentary representation.) This representation, and the political participation it encourages, was a driving force in Māori assimilation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Māori actively volunteered for, and fought in, both World Wars, and spent the twentieth century as an active minority in New Zealand. However, discrimination was commonplace. Māori had significantly higher mortality rates due to lack of quality medical care in their isolated areas, and wages were substantively lower. The 1960s brought about large scale organized Māori protests, specifically around property rights, and culminating in a 1975 march of the entire length of the North Island. This is seen as the final trigger to the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal in that same year.
The Waitangi Tribunal is a permanent commission that hears grievances by Māori, specifically as they relate to violations by the Crown or other parties of the 1840 Treaty. While its findings are not binding, it has led to official apologies by the Crown for past land confiscations, and monetary reconciliation – albeit at a fraction of modern worth – for those.
One of the first big tests for the Tribunal was a case involving Bastion Point in Auckland, which was in the final stages of plans that would have seen the land taken and developed by the government. For 14 months from 1977-78, Māori occupied the land until they were forcibly removed. The Tribunal found in favor of the Māori and compensation was given.
Bastion Point today
So where are things today? There are currently about 600,000 Māori in New Zealand, with the largest iwi (tribe), ngapuhi iwi in the Northland, at about 120,000 in the last census. As about 15% of the New Zealand population, this represents a significant minority. Māori is an official language of New Zealand, and school instruction is able to be conducted in it. Māori art is celebrated in museums, cultural performances are popular with tourists, and the Auckland Museum even includes a Māori-focused natural history exhibit, with the Māori theories on the origins of the world being given actual validity – something nearly unimaginable in the United States, where Native American mythology is nearly completely dismissed.
This all said, Māori are still more likely to live in poverty than those of European descent, and the average Māori lifespan is nearly eight years less. Māori are overrepresented in prisons, and some still face some discrimination.
I asked Waitangi Marae Chairman Ngati Kawa Taituha about how positive gains have been made. He said much of it can come down to rugby. New Zealand’s famous national team, the All Blacks, begin each game by doing the haka, a traditional Māori dance. As a result, Taituha tells me, Māori culture is seen as a winning brand. Kids want to emulate it, and advertising all over the country features Māori branding.
In addition, tribes have taken the settlements funds from the Waitangi Tribunal and invested those into becoming major industry players in tourism, growing the money into major trusts used to help facilitate infrastructure and educational scholarships for their people. These efforts are closing the pay and life expectancy gaps slowly but steadily.
The entrance to the Waitangi Marae
While things have certainly not been perfect, it is worth asking the question: why have the Māori generally had more success integrating – and surviving – than other similar indigenous populations?
There would seem to be a number of factors. First, New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses to be “discovered” by Europeans. Early settlement was limited since it was not a land with significant mineral wealth, so early settlers integrated into Māori society, rather than forcing their own ways on the native population. It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that significant settlement occurred, and that was after the Treaty, a Treaty that was signed by a more generous monarch whose primary interest was in stopping French expansion rather than in colonizing.
Second, while the various iwi of the Māori have their own identities, the chieftains came together for the purposes of negotiating jointly. In the early American colonial days, Native American tribes fought on both sides of conflicts. This ability to stick together benefitted the Māori significantly when it came to both establishing the Treaty and the later Waitangi Tribunal.
Finally, one also has to credit the early European settlers of New Zealand in not attempting to annihilate the culture of their native counterparts. While there was ample discrimination, there has been much less than in the US, for instance, where natives were referred to as “savages” unworthy of being on the same land. Maybe it is due to the relatively small population of New Zealand, but Māori culture has been more actively incorporated into modern society than that of similar peoples elsewhere.
As a deep-thinking traveler, this all matters to us on two levels. One, it is wonderful to be able to experience Māori culture during travels to New Zealand, instead of a country that would otherwise just be a mini-Europe. Marae are common sights, and wood carvings are on exhibit all over. Cultural performances are seen not just as historic, but as living demonstrations from a modern people. I’ve spoken about some of these sights in my posts both on Auckland and on Bay of Islands.
Two, it matters to us because it is a further realization of some of the faults in our own societies, where much native culture has been destroyed, and done so intentionally. The Māori and their integration into modern New Zealand society are an example of what might have been here, and what might one day be if attention is paid and effort is put forth. While we cannot undo the past mistreatment of our own native populations, we can determine to reshape the future into one where their cultures are celebrated.
Once again, thank you to Ngati Kawa Taituha for his participation in educating this American about the Māori and their history. For more from Ngati Kawa, check out The Royal Tour: Bay of Islands.