Story: Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements

Page 1. Historic Māori protest

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Protests, 1960s onwards

The Māori protest movements that emerged in the 1960s and flourished in the succeeding decades formed against a background of international and national surges in protest activity. Anti-war, indigenous rights, black consciousness and women’s rights movements all emerged during this period. Māori protest movements were influenced by all these activities, but they were also informed by awareness not only of historical injustices, but also the methods used historically by tīpuna (ancestors) to protest.

Earlier protests

Independence protests

There are numerous examples of 19th-century Māori protest. Some were related to encroachments upon Māori independence. In 1844 and 1845 Hōne Heke cut down the flagstaff flying the Union Jack at Kororāreka, Bay of Islands, four times as a protest against the Crown.

In the 19th century Māori also protested against taxes on dogs. At times they were imprisoned for failing to pay. In 1898 a protest led to the ‘dog tax war’, in which a group of northern Māori took up arms in the Hokianga and were arrested.

Land protests

Many protests were land-related. These often involved disruption of surveys, including the removal of survey pegs, burning survey huts and ejecting surveyors. In the South Island, the prophet Te Maihāroa occupied a sheep station near Ōmarama. From 1879 Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai of Parihaka, Taranaki, opposed land confiscations by destroying survey pegs and ploughing confiscated land.

Petitioning Parliament was a common method of protest and Māori sent numerous petitions representing land grievances to Parliament. A number of deputations went to England to try and present their grievances to the reigning monarch.

Lake protest

Protests often revolved around waterways, which Māori relied on as important sources of food. In Wairarapa in the 1890s, Pākehā sought to open the spit across the mouth of Lake Ōnoke to prevent flooding. Local Māori tried to prevent this as the lake was an important source of food, particularly eels. Digging to open the spit was obstructed by Māori filling in the trench. Eventually Ngāti Kahungunu leader Piripi Te Maari-o-te-rangi petitioned Parliament.

Contemporary protest changes

In the 1950s and 1960s protests against government actions tended to be low-key and conservative. The Māori Women’s Welfare League and New Zealand Māori Council wrote letters, organised petitions, made public statements and sent deputations to government officials. By the late 1960s a younger group of Māori activists was more likely to march, picket, demonstrate and organise occupations. Civil disobedience was considered an option. Rather than fearing arrest, many of the younger activists saw it as part of the range of options for protest.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements - Historic Māori protest', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 August 2022)

Story by Basil Keane, published 20 Jun 2012