Re-thinking individualisation: M'ori land development policy and the law in the age of Ngata (1920-1940)

AuthorRichard Boast
PositionQC OMNZ, Professor, Victoria University of Wellington
NG ATA (1920–1940)
RP B*
is article focuses on Sir Āpirana Ngata as Minister of Native Aairs and hi s
programme for Māori land development, which was underpinned by legislation
enacted in 1929. e legislation is considered fully, as is the development
programme itself. e thesis of the article is that the d evelopment programme was
of pivotal signicance, historically and legally, and that it nee ds to be understood in
the wider context of law and policy rel ating to Māori land. e land development
programme was a massive and risky invest ment in Māori land development, and
was a reversal of policies which concentrated on the acquisition of Māori land
by the state and its transfer to individual purchasers. It is suggested that Ngata’s
success in bringing about this change was a remarkable achievement, but the
land development policy was undercut by a failure to manage the programme
eectively. is led to Ngata’s resignation. Following his resignation, the state’s
administration of Māori land devel opment changed direction, to the detriment of
Ngata’s wider programme of economic and cultural revitalisation. Furthermore,
the programme was awed by a failure to develop coherent policy as to whether
developed land was to be held by Māori farmers or by collective bodies. Also
signicant was the emergence of a social-democratic and economic nationalist
Labour government after 1935, which was animated by a quite dierent vision
from that of Ngata.
I. I
is article is intended as an overview of the development of Māori
land policy from 1909–1953 (that is, the period in between the two pivotal
* QC OMNZ, Profess or, Victoria University of Wellin gton. is paper is based on a key note
address given at t he Australia a nd New Zealand Le gal History confe rence held at Canterbury
University in 2017. My thanks to Eliz abeth Macphers on, Faculty of Law, Universit y of
Canterbury, and to t he anonymous reviewer f or numerous helpful comment s and suggestion s.
2 Canterbury Law R eview [Vol 25, 2019]
statutes: the Native Land Act 1909 and the Māori Aairs Act 1953.1 ose
two statutes were restatements (and, to some degree, codications) of the
complex statutory framework relating to Māori land tenure – a statutory
framework which had been in a state of dynamic evolution and repeated
remodelling since the enactment of the rst Native Lands Acts of 1862 and
1863 .2 e principal focus of this paper is on Sir Āpirana Ngata and his
Māori land development policies and on the legislation which provided for the
schemes, which was rst enacted in 1929 and was later consolidated into the
core Māori land statutes. To understand the signicance of Ngata’s policies
and the legislation that was enacted to implement them it is necessary to
comment briey on the state of the Māori rural economy in the rst decades
of the 20th century.
e Māori rural economy, from the cessation of the wars in 1872 up
to 1929 and the advent of Ngata’s land development schemes, has not yet
been adequately investigated by economic historians, but it is possible to
hazard a few generalisations. Even where Māori retained substantial areas
of land, as in the East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, and in the central North Island,
they were hampered everywhere by a lack of access to development credit.
Poverty, squalid housing and poor health were widespread.3 Māori remained
vulnerable to epidemic diseases, including measles, inuenza, whooping
cough, pneumonia and typhoid, and were very severely aected by the
inuenza epidemic of 1918–1919. e New Zealand government also badly
mismanaged the epidemic crisis in Sa moa, with dire results. As well as being
vulnerable to epidemics, the Māori population was aected by high levels of
chronic illness, especially tuberculosis, which was a terrible scourge blighting
thousand s of lives and fami lies.4
It was not that all Māori people were poor and ill, or that their circu mstances
were the same throughout the country. Certainly there were a number of
1 ere was also t he Native Land Act 1931, which was a consolidating st atute, enacted when
Ngata was Native M inister, which broug ht together in a single en actment the provision s
of the 1909 Act and the law re lating to Māori la nd development as set out in t he Native
Land Amend ment and Native Land Cl aims Adjustment A ct 1929. e 1931 Act was an
enormously bulk y statute which consolid ated together the Native L and Act 1909 and Ngata’s
1929 legislation into a single en actment. It remaine d in force until the en actment of the
Maori Aa irs Act 1931.
2 On th is originating leg islation and its eec ts see RP Boast  e Native Land Court 1862 –1887:
A Historical Stud y, Cases and Commentary ( omson Reuters, Wellington, 2013).
3 On Māori health, see R aeburn La nge May the People Live: A Hist ory of Maori Health
Dev elo pmen t 1900 –192 0 (Auckland Uni versity Press, Auckla nd, 1999). is is an impor tant
study, which paints a d ire picture of Māori health a nd wellbeing as at circa 1900, but which
also emphasi ses improvement in Māori he alth as resu lt of the eorts of the gover nment,
Māori leaders suc h as Maui Pomare and of religious or ganisations.
4 Some of these theme s are pursued in R ichard Boa st Buying the Land , Selling the La nd:
Government s and Maori Land in the Nor th Island 1865–1921 (Victoria Universit y Press,
Wellington, 2008). is b ook draws on research for the Waita ngi Tribunal process prepare d
by the present author, Brian Mu rton (University of Hawai’ i) and others.
Re-thinking individualisation: Māori land development policy 3
and the law in the age of Ngata (1920-1940)
successful, even well-to-do Māori fa rmers and landowners, who owned large
properties, sent their children to boarding schools, travelled abroad, and who
mixed on reasonably equal terms with national politicians and local elites
(examples are Sir James Carroll, Āpirana Ngata himself, Sir Maui Pomare,
Airini Donnelly, Wi Pere, and Kurupō Tāreha). Māori society was not
innocent of class distinctions.5 Nor were Māori in all parts of the country
in exactly the same circumstances: there was a degree of regional variation.
Although more work is needed on the subject, it appears to be the case that
Māori people were much worse o – in the sense of being poorer and having
fewer options to escape poverty – in the conscated zones of Taranaki and
the Waikato than was the c ase in the East Coast and Hawke’s Bay.6 e tribes
of the conscated areas la cked a landed base, although this may not have been
the only reason for higher levels of poverty, underemployment and mortality.
Māori from other parts of the country who visited the Waikato were shocked
by the conditions there, and it is possible that the situation was even worse in
Taranaki.7 Although it is hard to be certain, the smaller and more localised
Tauranga and eastern Bay of Plenty conscations seem to have had less dire
eects on later generations than was the case in Taranaki and the Waikato.8
Conditions in the Urewera region, partially aected by conscation, were
generally appalling, perhaps the worst in the country. Here oods and crop
failures were literally a matter of life a nd death, as is abundantly demonstrated
by numerous requests for aid sent to the government by the chiefs of Tūhoe,
Ngāti Whare, and Ngāti Manawa in the 1890s, and there is a wealth of
evidence that documents the wretched poverty of Urewera Māori, a poverty
5 ere is a mazingly little l iterature on class di erences within Mā ori society, either today or in
the 19th century.
6 On the leg al history of t he land consc ations of the 1860s, see R P Boast “‘An Expen sive
Mistake’: Law, Court s, and Consc ation on the New Zea land Colonia l Frontier” in RP
Boast and R Hi ll (eds) Raupatu: e Con scation of Māori L and (Victoria Universit y Press,
Wellin gton 2009) 145 –168.
7 On condit ions in the Waikato, see Micha el King Te Puea (Hodder and Stoughton, A uckland,
1977) 28–34; on Tarana ki, see John Hutton Aspects of t he Social History of Maori in Taranaki ,
1880–1960: Over view Report (Researc h report commissioned by the Crown Fore stry Rental
Trust, Wai 143 [Taranaki Inqu iry], 1993) Doc M38. Both K ing and Hutton present a grim
picture of Māori hea lth, mortality and genera l well-being in these areas i n the period from
1880–1930. Much more work needs to be done on the Waik ato.
8 On Tauranga Mā ori in the period unde r study, see Evelyn Stokes A Histor y of Tauranga
County (Dunmor e Press, Palmerston North, 1980) 304 –326. Tauranga Māori were not well-
o by any means, a ny more than they were elsew here, but it appears from Stokes’ exemplar y
regional his tory that a range of economic options d id exist in this area , including supplying
milk to dai ry factories, gu m-digging, c utting ax, bush-f elling and sheep fa rming. Māori had
retained some of t heir lands in this a rea, and the Bay of Plenty i s a mixed farming , rather than
dairy ing, zone. Poor housing and poor hea lth were none the less widespread in Taura nga.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT