Waitangi Day Thoughts.

This Waitangi Day I didn't attend an official hui as I did last year, but I spent some of the time reading some history that documented the early contacts between Maori and Europeans in Murihiku.

One of the earliest European accounts I have is from the journals of John Boultbee, who travelled around the south coast of New Zealand in 1827. He spent time living with local Maori and even describes a meeting with Tuhawaiki who was later to be a signatory of the Treaty of Waitangi. Tuhawaiki learned his English from the sealers and whalers he came into contact with and as a result it was laden with expletives, hence his nickname "Bloody Jack". When he converted to Christianity and came into contact with more educated Europeans he was apparently embarrassed by the language he had used.

Boultbee describes the generosity and kindness he was shown by the Maori of 'Ruaboka' (Ruapuki Island) and when he was later picked up by a sealing ship he made the following observation:

"When I was on board a few hours, I felt sorry at having left my friends, who though they were savages, had something pleasing and prepossessing in their manner, whereas the white wretches I now was amongst were ignorant, disagreeable and selfish."

Maori suffered greatly from their first contact with Pakeha and southern Maori were no different. With no immunity to STIs, measles, influenza and typhus they lost 50% of their population in the first 20 years or so.

In 1840 the first European missionary, the Reverend James Watkin, arrived in the south and to his surprise he found that Maori preachers had preceded him. Watkin was in demand for lessons in writing, as literacy was seen as vital to Maori if they were to fully engage with the growing number of Pakeha settlers.

The 1840s to 1860s were called the golden age of Maori enterprise. Tuhawaiki had his own whaling business and employed Pakeha as whalers and book keepers. Maori provided potatoes and wheat  to early settlers, they owned multiple flour mills around the country and their many ships transported food to the largest settlements and even to Australia. This economic strength died shortly afterwards as European land grabs removed the most arable land from Maori and they could no longer compete with the settlers. Maori found that they couldn't even access capital to improve their remaining land because banks would only lend on properties that had individual title and this cleverly excluded tribal land. Maori couldn't afford to update the technology in their flour mills or repair their ships.

In Murihiku, The Southland Story, historian Bill Dacker explains how almost all the land in the South Island was taken from the Maori by dubious means:

"Actions of Crown representatives were determined by racist doctrine - Maori should be left with only enough land for their immediate sustenance, forcing them to work for Pakeha for wages to ensure that the 'savage' became 'civilised' and could never be landlord or boss over Pakeha."

"...Maori protests began immediately. Expediency and racist assumptions determined Government responses - the protests could be ignored because southern Maori were, militarily, powerless 'savages' degraded by contact Europeans, doomed to die out anyway."

Over the next hundred years Maori became the workers who dominated shearing gangs and worked in the freezing works that produced wool and meat that made New Zealand a wealthy nation. In many places Maori were treated like 2nd class citizens in their own country. In Monty Soutar's book The Price of Citizenship he relates how the soldiers in the Maori Battlalion's C Company were able to drink in Gisborne's pubs for the first time on their return from fighting heroically in World War 2, hence the title.

It is interesting to hear the familiar arguments, from those who have no appreciation of history, complaining bitterly about the Treaty Settlements and the 'greedy' Maori who always have their hands out for more money. When you consider the value of the land taken and how Maori were deliberately shut out of the New Zealand economy for over a hundred years, the settlements are token gestures at best. In 1997 the southern most iwi, Ngai Tahu received $170 million (in todays dollars it equates to $283 million) and it has been the largest settlement so far. Five of the settlements have been for well less than the annual salary of some of our CEOs.

If you divide the total of all settlements by the population of Maori it comes out to around $1,400 a person, and even if you adjust this for inflation we are still looking at a little over $2,000 each. Recently the Government was prepared to spend $3.8 million to bail out an exclusive private school (despite advice against it), an amount bigger than seven of the Treaty settlements. This represented spending $9,000 per student for them to continue receiving a privileged education and I haven't seen the same generosity given to any Kura Kaupapa. This makes me wonder if anything has really changed.


Anonymous said…
Paragraph 7 Wrong century !
bsprout said…
Thanks for that, it was late when I was editing :-)

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