The Situation of the Maori in New Zealand, Political Aspects

Seminar Paper, 1991

11 Pages, Grade: 1 - (A-)


Die Situation der Maori in Neuseeland

1. Preface

In the last years the indigenous people in former British colonies e.g. the black peoples in South Africa, the Indians in the US and Canada or the Aborigenies in Australia came more and more into the public eye. But about the Maori in New Zealand nothing could be heard or seen in the media. The goal of the following term paper is to show how the minority rights of the Maori are realized, how they are represented and how much influence they have in political institutions.

The literature used for the term paper is mostly determinated especially for the New Zealand market, where, since the early 1980's this topic is dealt with critically. Also the intents are rather pro-Maori.

In the following text several Maori expressions are used.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

In writing Maori language there is no differenze between singular and plural.

2. Introduction: Historical background

About 1000 or 1100 A. D. the first Maori, an Eastern-Polynesian people, arrived in an uninhabited New Zealand which they called Ao Tea Roa (long white cloud). In the following centuries they settled both Islands, the Northern and the Southern.

In 1769 Captain Cook explored the islands which led to the first settlements by Europeans, who were whalers, sealers and missionaries. In the 1830's more and more British settlers came to New Zealand, finding all land in the hands of savages. The conflict between white settlers, greedy for land, and Maori, calling themselves tangata whenua (people of the land), led to the Land Wars from 1860 - 1870. The settlers, who were supported by regular troops, won and the losers were punished by confiscation of their land. The late 19th century was charactarized by further land alienation conveyed through legal act and judical decisions.

Despite being British citizens since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 the Maori were patronized by the government. Their culture was seen as inferior and so e.g. Maori was prohibited as language for educatiuon. The governments policy objects were to assimilate the Maori and to turn them into brown Pakeha. Some Maori were adopting the western lifestyle and had great success in Pakeha society, but most of them resisted and kept their culture till today, however they resignated and gave up their fight for their rights. Being cut off from their former resources (only 5% of the land was still in Maori hand), they struggled hard with their economical situation, till the introduction of the Welfare State in 1935 brought alleviation. In the 50's New Zealand was becoming a more and more industrialized country, hence the Maori migrated from their rural settlements into the cities to work there as unskilled workers.

The Pakeha were very proud about the peaceful race relations in New Zealand in comparison to those in the US or UK. But during the recession in the 1970's, young urban Maori, most of them without any school qualifications and unemployed, gave up the moderate protest of their parents and turned towards radical views and radical means. The Pakeha society and the government were forced to get down to the problems and to improve the worse social conditions of the Maori. Also first steps to more political influance and bicultural society were made.

3. Mainpart: The Maori and the political institutions

3.1 The Treaty of Waitangi & The Waitangi Tribunal

To understand the relationship between the Maori and the Pakeha in general and to political institutions in special the Treaty of Waitangi has great importance. In 1840 Maori chiefs and representants of the English Crown put their sign under a Treaty which "(...) is the main foundation stone on which rests the modern state of New Zealand." 1

The Treaty (see page 18f) gave the sovereignty over the islands to the Crown, but left rangatiratanga over people, land and treasures to the chiefs. The Maori also was granted full British citizenship. The motives on the British side were to enlarge their sphere of influence and to establish British law and order. For the Maori the Treaty meant defence against onsets from the settlers' side and a safeguard for the reestabishment of social stability, that broke down with the first contacts with white-men's guns and alcohol. Instead of following the contract the British, and later on the New Zealand government, used their power to alienate land from the Maori, because neither the Queen nor the Parliament ever ratificated it.

The betrayal from the Pakeha's side deteriorated the race relations and is burdening them till today. The Maori tried again and again to get their rights without any success. For many Maori the Treaty was merely a fraud, but also many hoped that it will become a basis for a Maori renaissance.

The first step towards political and legal recognition of the Treaty was made in 1975 by the Labour government establishing the Waitangi Tribunal. The tasks of this institution have been "(...) to make recommendations on claims relating to the practical application of the Treaty and to determine whether certain matters are inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty."2 But it seemed to be a useless institution because till 1983 it was applied only twice and in both matters it made no recommendation. In 1984 the Waitara case came to the Tribunal. The traditional Maori fishing grounds at Taranaki were polluted by industrial waste and the iwi saw in this an infraction of the Treaty. The Tribunal decided against the interests of the industry and made a recommendation for the government, that it should protect the Maori rights. The government first rejected the recomendation, but after public pressure, it was forced to introduce a corresponding legislation.

The next important step was done in 1985, where the Tribunal was allowed to investigate claims (but only against the Crown) back to 1840. The Maori were very euphoric about this measure, hoping that they would get back their recources which were alienated from them. These hopes were dissapointed, because the Tribunal was only allowed to make recommendations which were not binding for the government.

The Treaty itself is accepted as an integral part of legislation only since 1989, when the Prime Minister said: "(...) the Treaty of Waitangy has a potential to be our nation's most powerful unifiying symbol."3 The government proclaims in a statement that the iwi will gain back control over their treasures, including cultur and language and that it will protect them actively. This new goal of polity also draws more attention on the Tribunal, which can now pronounce sentences.

3.2 The Parliament

Maori and Pakeha have totaly different attitudes towards democracy. The New Zealand democracy is based on Pakeha values, like majority rule and the individual as fundamental unit of society, because it's adopted from England, an absolutly monocultural country. The Maori system is based on concensus polity, that means they sit as long together at the hui untill a compromise for all is found. They also used to act politically as a group, either as family, kin or iwi.

In 1867 only landowners had a vote. This excluded the Maori because they only had collective landownership. To weaken the tribal system their land was individualized and to prevent becoming outnumbered by the Maori, being the majority of population in these days, four seats of 80 were reserved for them. Although being an implement of subjugation these seperate seats are existing till today. The Maori MP's are elected by majority vote in particular boundaries. Since 1975, the Maori can choose to either enroll in Maori or General Roll, also the Pakeha can stand as candidates for Maori electoral and vice versa.

All politicians are aware of the unfairness of the current way of parlamentary Maori representation. Being 9.3% of the total population of New Zealand they only have fours seats of 95. Hence the Maori have only little interest in politics and so there are mostly light votings. Following modells are in dispute to solve this problem.

The model prefered by the Labour Party and Mana Motuhake (see page 11) is about setting the number of Maori seats in relation to the total population. At the moment this would mean eight or nine seats. The improvements will be more political influance for them, especially when they hold the balance of power in parliament. It would also bring smaller boundaries, where the MP's can build up a closer connection to their voters (at present the Southern Boundary covers the whole Southern Island and the Wellington area).

The second model is proposed by the New Zealand Party, who wants to abolish the Maori seats. The results will be, that all parties are forced to pay much more attention to Maori concerns, to gain the majority in their boundaries. But this can also lead to an exclusion of the Maori out of parliament, if the Pakeha majority refuses them.

At last radical Maori organisations demand a seperate legislative instrument, based on traditional structures, like iwi, kin or familiy, where the elders have a right to speak. For the supporters of this plan "(...) colonisation and democracy are synonymes"4, because "(...) democracy(...) is a whiteman's way of taking over (...)" their "(...) country, its resources and its identity."5 This would give them a chance to decide over their own concerns on the one hand, but on the other hand it would strengthen racial tensions and the old inter-tribal struggles would return.

3.3 The Political Parties

New Zealand has like Great Britain a two-party-system, which consists of the Labour Party and the National Party. In the early 80's this seemed to break up, because two so-called third parties emerged. Firstly the Values Party, which is comparable with the green parties in Europe. They support the separatistic Maoritanga policy, put a stress on ecologic values and demand a minimal and maximal income policy. All these points could arise Maori sympathy but their intelectual and mittel-class apearance puts the Maori off. Secondly the New Zealand Party, a liberal party with the political goals to reduce bureaucracy and Welfare State. They proposed to abolish the seperate seats and let some Maori stand for parliament in the general election. In 1984 many Maori supported them because they were an alternative to the great parties, this ended in 1986 as they fusioned with the National Party.

The National Party as well as the Labour Party are class bound. This is one of the main reasons why the Maori, mostly belonging to the underclass, are voting Labour. Hence the Maori seats are since the intorduction of Welfare State in the 1930's in their hands. Maori motives in elections are different to Pakeha ones. On the one hand they vote like the whole tribe had always voted, and on the other hand appearence of the candidate is first and his ideology second. Beeing sure of the four seperate seats, Labour was fighting for a greater support from the Pakeha and put less interest in Maori affairs. The Maori MP's became powerless backbenchers, more interested in party career than in representing their voters. So more and more Maori were dissapointed with them and lost their interest in politics.

The National Party, comparable with the British Conservatives, is a middle- and upperclass party and was supported only by a few Maori, because they consider it a representative of the hostile capitalistic system. During the Maori breakup in the early 1980's, the National Party, ruling till 1984, became aware of Maori concerns. Thereupon many Maori enrolled in the General Roll and so two Maori came in 1984 into parliament over the general election.

During the same time, one of the Maori Labour MP's, Matiu Rata, left the party and founded Mana Motuhake (seperate power or nationhood). The Maori asked themselves which advantages it would bring having an own political party. Many Maori feared that the Labour Party would give up it's pro-Maori policy and others thought it would fail like other pan- tribal organisations which are paralized by inter-tribal differences. In the 1984 elections, Mana Motuhake failed, even Mat Ratha reached only 37% in his boundary. The reasons were, that he was the only candidate from the party who was accepted as a political leader and the Maori asked themselves what only one MP could obtain. Another point was that the party is founded on iwi elders and this kept the young Maori from voting for Mana Motuhake.

These alterations also induced a change in Labour policy, which has been the governing party since 1984. They are safeguarding goals like proportional representation, bi-cultural society and the Devolution programme (see page 13). This renewed the strong attachment between Labour and Maori.

3.4 The State & The Government

The State of New Zealand is in it's whole structure, which is adopted from Britain, a Pakeha state. Also the symbols like flag with the Union Jack and the name, given by the Dutch explorer Tasman, have no connection to the Maori and their culture. For them, the whole State is a product of the colonisation. A symbolic step toward the Maori was done with the nomination of Sir Paul Reeves as General Goveneur, the representative of British Crown, who is first a Maori.

The polity of the government depends very much on the party which has the majority in parliament. Since 1984 the Labour party has been ruling and in the government there are two Maori ministers. Since then Maori is tought at schools, quotas for Maori students were introduced and on TV station times are reserved for Maori programmes. But the most important step was the recommendation of the Treaty (see page 6).

3.4.1 Government Programmes: Tu Tangata and the Devolution Programme

Tu Tangata was intoduced by the National government in 1980 which was an important step away from the assimilation policy. It's goals were to "(...) assist Maori communities, groups, and individuals to achieve some sort of self-sufficiency".6 and to reduce their dependence on welfare services. Resources from welfare institutions were shifted directly to the iwi, giving them the chance to build up decentral, local- based projects. It was hoped to overcome Maori apathy and pessimism. The programme was not very successfull because saving money was emphasized and not giving back land as the traditional resource.

Tu Tangata was succeded by the Devolution Programme which was introduced by the Labour government. The main difference is that Devolution is based on the recommendation of the Treaty. Restauration of land, and if not possible, adequate compensations are founding this policy. Here are also the 42 iwi of New Zealand chosen as the partners of the government, because the Maori identify them as a part of the iwi and not as members of the Maori nation and they are the traditional social system. For Maori who live in cities new urban iwi will be installed. Despite all the financial advantages the Maori are gaining, many of them fear that the iwi will only become an implement of administration and not the organs of rangatiratanga. More radical Maori suspect that the Pakeha government wants to restore it's political power by dividing and rule.

3.4.2 The Department of Maori Affairs

The Department was founded in 1975, but predecessing institutions reach back till 1840. These institutions were always an implement of the government policy, whether it was the alienation of land, assimilation or integration. Before Tu Tangata was introduced, the Department's tasks were mainly dispersing money for housing or other social services. The object of this rather tutoring policy was to "(...) avoid a situation of ethnic conflict via the bureaucratisation of race relation."7

With Tu Tangata the whole role of the Department, especially from the Social Service Division, had changed. The new operations were on the one hand in supporting education and youth programmes and on the other hand to assist iwi at building up their new economical structures.

In 1988 the government decided that the Department should phase out in the next to years, because it was seen incabable to convey through the Devolution Programme, and that it shoud be substituted by a Ministry of Maori Policy. The tasks of the new Ministry should be to advise the government and other ministries in Maori and especially Treaty issues. The rather administrative operations of the Department should be transfered to an Iwi Transition Agency till the iwi will capable to do them on their own. After a period of five years the Agency should be liquidated and the iwi will be restored as the authorities of rangatiratanga.

4. Conclusion: The Maori in a bi-cultural New Zealand

The decade of the 1980's has been an important era for the Maori. The milestones of this development were the recommendation of the Treaty of Waitangi and the introduction of the Devolution Programme. Till these incisive changes happend, the Maori were already in a better situation than other indegenous people in former British dominions. They had politically the same rights as citizens of New Zealand of European descent, they were not deported to reservations or home lands, and a Welfare State took care of them. But their economical and social circumstances have been much worse in comparison to the Pakeha one's. The cultural identity was under the pressure of assimilation and the integration policy.

Now, in the 1990's, the paternalistic policy of the Pakeha is overcome. The political institutions support the Maori by building up or renewing their own political, economical und cultural structures. This development leads from an white dominated New Zealand today to a bi- cultural society tomorrow. This means not only that the individual Maori and Pakeha are equal in rights, but also that both peoples are at the same level.

For both peoples this will be a hard way to go and many reverses are going to happen. The Maori will have to accept much more responsability on state affairs and they will have to evolve more engagement in politics and economy. The Pakeha will have to give up their attitude as Britons in the South Pacific, and in comparison to the Maori as a superior nation.

5. Appendices

5.1 Bibliography

illustration not visible in this excerpt

5.3 The Treaty of Waitangi

1. The English version of the Treaty:


The Chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the seperate independent Chiefs who have not become members of the confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutly and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignity which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or to possess over their respective territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.


Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guaranties to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possesion of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Porprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.


In consideration therof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privilegs of British Subjects.

2. An English translation of the Maori version :


The Chiefs of the Confederation and all the chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutly to the Queen of England forever the complete government over their land.


The Queen of England agrees to protect the Chiefs, the sub-tribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over the lands, villages and all their treasures. But on the other hand, the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed to bys the person owing it and by the person buying it (the latter being appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent).


For this agreed arrangement therefore, the Government of the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary peopleof New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.


1.) Mac Donald, Robert, The Maori of New Zealand, London, 1985, Page 8

2.) Levine, Stephen & Raj, Vasil, Maori Political Perspectives, Auckland, 1985, Page 186

3.) Raj Vasil, What Do The Maori Want? Auckland, 1990, Page 146

4.) Raj Vasil, Page 39

5.) Raj Vasil, Page 37

6.) Levine, Stephen & Raj, Vasil, Page 45

7.) Spoonly, P., Mac Pherson, C., Peason, D. & Sedgwick,C., Tauiwi, Palmerston North, NZ Page 15

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The Situation of the Maori in New Zealand, Political Aspects
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Robert Pernetta (Author), 1991, The Situation of the Maori in New Zealand, Political Aspects, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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