A short history of Maori struggle



A short history of Maori struggle

The following is abridged from a talk given to the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in Sydney at Easter by Maori activist HONE HARAWIRA.

The Maori population was about 1 million when the Europeans came. We had a stable society with our own social controls, our own conservation methods, our own rules of behaviour towards one another.

The first settler who came named it New Zealand after Zeeland, in Holland. He was prevented from landing by the natives. A couple of hundred years later James Cook arrived. The Hawaiians rib us about the fact that it was them who killed Cook. They say if we had stopped him, maybe he wouldn't have kept touring the Pacific and ruining lives!

When Pakehas (white people) came, they brought crime and diseases which almost wiped us out. The population dropped to 40,000 between 1800 and 1900. More died from disease than the big wars we had with the Pakehas. The population is now around 500,000-600,000.

In 1835, the British got us to sign a declaration of independence because they wanted an independent sovereign nation connected to Britain, not France or America. In 1840 we signed the Treaty of Waitangi — a contract between two sovereign nations.

Treaties are only as good as their implementation, and ours never was implemented. But there were hundreds and thousands of us and only around 2000 of them, and the treaty meant they wouldn't get wiped out.

As soon as they got enough firepower into the country, up went the treaty, and we've been fighting about that ever since.

The government can set up tribunals and commissions, you can give us compensation, you can put Maori people in charge of this and that, but at the end of the day we demand that the treaty be honoured: it guaranteed Maori government of our own lands, our own forests, our own fisheries.

Protests and wars against the NZ government began immediately, and they continue to be fought, sometimes violently, sometimes passively.

The first was when the first NZ government was established. The local chief wasn't given a fair deal, so he chopped down the flagpole — three times. The third time he burned down the town as well. The descendant of one of the colonials who fled the town is now in charge of treaty negotiations and wants to kick our butts as much as possible.

Colonial forces rampaged up and down the country, primarily in the central part of the North Island. On the South Island, my lot had been Christianised early on, so we were relatively passive. There was no serious treaty there.

In the north, those Maoris decided they could have a king too and set up their own territorial boundaries. The NZ government raided and took millions of hectares off those people.

In 1852 the Constitution Act established a settler government. A lot of people believe the colonial government took indigenous representation seriously because Maoris got seats in government. In fact, when a survey showed that the Maori vote was so big it could dissolve the government, they decided to divide the entire country into four seats, and we could only vote in those.

The Constitution Act was the first breach of the Waitangi Treaty because there was no consultation with Maori. Every government act since has breached the treaty.

The treaty said no Maori land could be sold except to the crown, and only if the Maoris agreed. The Constitution Act, however, said anyone can "commission" land and so much "commissioning" happened that they had to validate this by passing the invalid Land Sales Act.

Fragmented, Maori people turned to a variety of solutions. They created isolated independent parliaments and religious cults. The bible was a great weapon for destroying our sense of who we are.

Maori men went to the two world wars because they had nothing at home. Life had been so dehumanised by the crown's economy that Maori lifestyle broke down.

The common land had been divided into pieces by the government, and social structures based on common land crumbled. Respect for the old disappeared when it was clear the Pakehas controlled the land and had the power. The older generation couldn't explain to their children what was happening.

Many Maoris went to cities and got a European-style education. Out of that migration grew the urban Maori radicals. This radicalisation happened internationally — it was part of the 1960s movement.

The grandparent of the last 25 years of Maori activism was a group called the Young Warriors. We were well educated, knew about the law and about Pakeha protest methods. We knew about the Black Panther movement and the American Indians. Our first big protest was at Waitangi about the treaty.

Sadly, the main opposition was from our own people. They were so colonised they said, "Don't upset things, it's not that bad". Hundreds of Maoris wanted to beat us up.

Then there was the Great Maori Land March in 1975, followed by the biggest land protest ever at Bastion Point on May 25, 1978. People from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy came over for that, and there was uproar throughout the Pacific.

That action bound a lot of people together and resulted in the biggest police operation ever. Two hundred and twenty people were arrested. The government brought in the navy, army, air force, police, but that led to a determination to keep marching and fighting. We won that struggle; the Maoris got their land.

Then in the early 1980s, there was the Springbok tour. Pakehas joined the Maoris in protesting against apartheid. It was the first time Pakehas realised what their government was really like.

It was great to have them support us and fight against racism in South Africa, and it got them thinking about racism in NZ.

A lot of people were arrested but refused bail on principle. When we began to run political classes in jail, they threw us out. Nevertheless, the NZ government went all out to get the leaders in the indigenous part of the movement and after the last test, I was arrested.

All my charges added up to 149 years. Luckily, Desmond Tutu was in the country, and I asked him to be a witness. He came to court and explained what apartheid was. There was silence except for the people crying. I got off.

I've been protesting my whole life. It's not easy standing up for what's right. There's no money or careers in it, but you have to keep at it. If you want people to believe what you say, you have to walk your talk.