The Maori say that Polynesian explorer Kupe followed the stars and ocean currents to Aotearoa, now-New Zealand, about a thousand years ago. The beautiful and fertile lands attracted more Polynesian settlers to follow Kupe, who then established tribal societies focused on fishing, hunting native birds, and harvesting local and Polynesian vegetables (New Zealand Tourism). The Maori were prideful and courageous warriors who often warred with neighbouring tribes. Generally speaking, most Maori had, three core beliefs and practices: mana (hierarchical status), tapu (controls on behaviour or implied prohibitions), and utu (revenge to maintain societal balance). Disrespecting these practices would be cause for battle, which is a primary reason that the Maori conflicted with European settlers, who did not abide by the same conventions.
Biculturalism and The Treaty of Waitangi
In 1840, the first governor of New Zealand, William Hobson, sat with Maori chiefs to create a partnership between the Maori and the British Crown. The Treaty was subsequently signed by approximately 500 Maori Chiefs. What the treaty accomplished was, as quoted from New Zealand Now:
- accepting that Maori have the right to organise themselves, protect their way of life and to control the resources they own
- requiring the Government to act reasonably and in good faith toward the Maori
- making the government responsible for helping to address grievances
- establishing equality and the principle that all New Zealanders are equal under the law
This was essential for maintaining peace and creating a unified New Zealand as the population at the time was split nearly 50/50 between Maori and non-Maori populations. However, from the 1860s to the 1890s, the imbalance of the two groups, continued to escalate. According to John Chambers in his book, A Traveller’s History of New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands, depopulation of the Maori people was rampant as a result of a number diseases outbreaks such as measles and tuberculosis (2018, p. 195). Moreover, in the the 1860s to 1880s civil war broke out as a result of land scarcity, as European settlers demanded the Maori sell their land for settlement. This sparked the ‘King Movement‘ in which the Maori tribes elected kings who created judiciary and police organisations to protect their land. Eventually, there was movement toward the establishment of the Young Maori Party, who upheld the Treaty while also entering government positions and advocating for the welfare of Maori communities.
The Young Maori Party
The Young Maori Party was a group of three young men influenced by Sir James Carroll, the first high-ranking Maori political actor. The Party had four main tenets: to improve education and healthcare, promote communal farming, stop Maori land sales, and support chief hierarchy (Chambers 2018, p. 196).
Born 3 July 1874, Apirana Ngata was born to a Maori father and a mother of Scottish descent. He was proud of his heritage and sought to bridge the gap between the Maori and ‘Pakeha’ (Europeans). Ngata trained as a lawyer, but had a passion for social and economic reform for Maori communities. He aligned himself with James Carroll, Liberal minister, for whom he drafted policy that advocated for Maori land rights. His career portfolio included contributions to the Maori Lands Administration Act of 1900, the Maori Councils Act 1900, and the Native Land Act 1909. In addition to being a champion for Maori rights, Ngata remained loyal to the British Crown, and when World War 1 erupted, he assembled a Maori battalion.
Te Rangi Hiroa, also referred to as Peter Buck
Similarly to Ngata, Peter Buck was born in 1877 with both Maori and Pakeha ancestry; however, it is said that his upbringing heavily favoured his Pakeha side, with the exception of some language and legends lessons from relatives. Buck was exceptional at school and studied to become a doctor. In 1905, he was inspired to dedicate his career to providing health services and sanitation to Maori communities. He liaised between primarily Pakeha medial professionals and Maori leaders to take precautions against the spread of infectious disease. His time in parliament was dedicated to Health legislation, particularly in Maori tribes.
In 1875, Maui Pomare was born to a family of strong Maori leaders. For example, his grandmother was one of a handful of women to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. On his father’s deathbed, he recommended Pomare go to Pakeha school and relay important lessons to their tribe. One such lesson was that of hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. Pomare went on to study medicine in America, for which he raised the funds himself. He returned to New Zealand and lobbied for health reform, which was readily adopted due to scares over the bubonic plague, which had already hit Australia. In the 1920s, he was elected to parliament, where he proposed a number of developments and reforms, not only to health and sanitation, but also to land ownership and Maori representation.
Some claimed that the Party members were ‘westernised’ and were criticised for their alliance with Prime Minister John Seddon (Chambers 2018, p. 196). However, it is because of this alliance that each Party member later became members of parliament and worked to benefit the Maori communities. Despite their alliance with Seddon’s Liberals, who were keen on selling Maori land, the members of the Young Maori Party lobbied for its protection. Their presence in parliament was also crucial as a symbol for equality between Maori and non-Maori peoples as citizens of a modern New Zealand (Chambers 2018, p. 196). Their representation in parliament was an important step for the advancement of attitudes and culture in New Zealand society.
Today, the Maori people make up just 14% of the population (New Zealand Tourism). Yet, the preservation of the Maori culture remains. The Treaty’s framework has been incorporated into many of New Zealand’s subsequent acts and laws that have followed and are maintained accordingly. There are designated seats for Maori representatives in government and many also are elected to general seats, and the Maori language of Te Reo is one of the country’s official language.