Story: Kāwanatanga – Māori engagement with the state

Page 4. Sharing kāwanatanga

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Kotahitanga and Kīngitanga

Following the New Zealand wars, further large areas of Māori land were alienated by a range of processes including confiscation. Māori nationalist sentiment and attempts at greater autonomy were also maintained, almost always through non-violent means. In the 1890s a new Kotahitanga Māori Parliament attempted to form a union of tribes to advocate for Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) survived the New Zealand wars and later built a permanent base at Ngāruawāhia in Waikato.

Controlling custom

One of the powers of the Māori councils, formed in 1900, was to direct the conduct of tangihanga. In 1902 the Mangōnui District Māori Council, in the Far North, passed this by-law: ‘corpses shall be buried, if the death occurs between the 15th day of March and the 15th day of September (both days inclusive) in any year, within four days after death; and if the death occurs between the 16th day of September and the 14th day of March of the following year (both days inclusive), within three days after death, unless the Council shall otherwise direct, or unless it is otherwise provided for by any Act of the General Assembly.’1

Māori councils

In response to these and other pressures for increased Māori self-determination, Māori land councils and Māori councils were created by legislation in 1900. The purpose of the land councils was to appease the movement opposed to further sales of Māori land by administering leasehold agreements for the land. The Māori councils were empowered to oversee and regulate the health and welfare of their local communities. Neither of these initiatives proved effective or lasting.

Integration of Māori

The rapid migration of Māori to cities from the 1940s drove the Department of Māori Affairs (the renamed Native Affairs Department) to regard Māori housing and welfare as major concerns. The department also had ultimate responsibility for Māori wardens under the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. In this period Māori and Pākehā were coming into greater daily contact with each other, and the wardens had limited powers to maintain public order and ensure racial harmony. The 1960 Hunn Report recommended the integration of Māori within New Zealand society, and this became the basis for state policy on Māori throughout the 1960s. The New Zealand Māori Council was created in response to the then government’s wish to deal with Māori as a single race, rather than as individual tribes.

Political protest and treaty rights

The 1970s were dominated by a renewed sense of Māori identity and Māori protest movements about past injustices. In 1975 the government established the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The tribunal’s findings led to significant gains for Māori within the framework of kāwanatanga. Māori became an official New Zealand language in 1987, and state-sponsored Māori-language educational institutions and media services such as tribal radio stations and Māori Television were formed to support revitalisation of the language. The tribunal’s reports and findings also resulted in negotiated settlements between the government and specific tribes, often including the transfer to Māori of substantial financial and other assets that provided greater economic independence and political influence.

A bicultural New Zealand

From the late 1980s the government promoted a bicultural New Zealand, with a public service more responsive to the needs of the Māori community. Tribal and other Māori organisations became social-service providers, particularly addressing the social and economic inequities experienced by Māori families. The Whānau Ora programme, for example, aimed to improve the wellbeing of Māori whānau through better coordination of government services, using Māori service providers.

The government’s lead Māori policy advisor, the Ministry of Māori Development – Te Puni Kōkiri, defined its goal as ‘Māori succeeding as Māori… without compromising what it means to be Māori.’2

Modern challenges to kāwanatanga

The government continued to face challenges to the scope and nature of its kāwanatanga. In 2004 it passed legislation which deemed the ownership of the foreshore and seabed to be held by the Crown. More than 30,000 Māori and their Pākehā supporters marched on Parliament to challenge the legislation, which was replaced in 2011 by the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act. This sparked further controversy.

  1. ‘By-Laws of the Mangonui District Maori Council’, Supplement to New Zealand Gazette 14 (18 February 1902), p. 403. Back
  2. ‘Statement of intent 2010–2013.’ Te Puni Kōkiri, (last accessed 28 May 2012). Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith and Rawinia Higgins, 'Kāwanatanga – Māori engagement with the state - Sharing kāwanatanga', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Paul Meredith and Rawinia Higgins, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 1 Aug 2016