Story: Ngā take Māori – government policy and Māori

Page 4. Depression, war and urbanisation, 1930s to 1960s

All images & media in this story

Expanding the Native Department

During the economic depression of the early 1930s, Native Minister Apirana Ngata headed an overhaul of the Native Department, which grew into a major economic-development agency. Ngata used state funding to develop large blocks of tribally owned land in some of the country’s poorest districts. To provide homes on the newly developed blocks, the department began a large-scale Māori housing programme.

Good work, poor accounting

East Coast leader Sir Apirana Ngata was native minister from 1928 to 1934. During the depression he created work for Māori clearing, grassing and stocking tribal land in many parts of the country. However, he and his supervisors were often careless about accounting for state funds. In 1934 a commission of inquiry found that he had ignored regulations and that some of his staff were corrupt. Ngata accepted full responsibility and resigned from cabinet. It was many years before the department shed its reputation for dishonesty and inefficiency.

First Labour government

Labour won power in 1935 with the support of the Rātana movement. This religious and political organisation had pressed for some years for greater Māori autonomy and recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi. However, Labour believed its programme of economic equality would benefit Māori best. It expanded Ngata’s land development and housing schemes, but accepted that public opinion still firmly favoured assimilation.

Second World War

A tribally based Maori War Effort Organisation (MWEO) headed by Paraire Paikea of Ngāti Whātua worked alongside the Native Department to recruit Māori troops and raise support for the war effort at home. The MWEO appears to have been the first institution of Māori self-government to receive public funding. At the end of the war it was absorbed into the Native Department, which helped to rehabilitate Māori ex-servicemen.

Jock McEwen

Jock McEwen was secretary of Māori affairs from 1963 to 1975. A Pākehā, he learned to speak Māori as a young man and began working for the Maori Affairs Department in 1935. McEwen went on to lead the department during the early years of the Māori cultural renaissance. He was also active in Wellington’s Māori community as a founding member of the Ngāti Pōneke Māori cultural club, a carving tutor at Wi Tako prison and a member of the committee revising the Williams Māori dictionary.

Maori Affairs Department

From 1946 Peter Fraser served as both prime minister and native minister. He legislated to change official use of the term ‘native’ to ‘Māori’, since Māori regarded the older term as demeaning and patronising. From 1948 to 1957 the department was headed by Tipi Rōpiha, the first Māori to hold this position. The amount of state compensation offered for 19th-century land confiscations was increased and Māori land development and housing schemes were extended. Perhaps most significantly, Māori urbanisation was recognised as irreversible. The department’s policy became to ease the path of Māori into urban life.

Hunn Report

The 1960 Hunn Report on the Department of Maori Affairs identified three types of Māori:

  • a minority who were completely detribalised, with very little or no Māoritanga
  • the majority, who were generally at home in either Māori or non-Māori society
  • a minority who were ‘complacently living a backward life in primitive conditions’.1

The report argued for planned migration to the cities and assistance with training, employment and accommodation. The result was to hasten Māori urbanisation and integration.

New Zealand Maori Council

The Maori Welfare Act 1962 created a four-tier permanent consultative body for Māori, with Māori committees, tribal executives, district councils and a national Maori Council.

Simplifying Māori land ownership

The Maori Affairs Act 1953 aimed to help Māori achieve equality through economic development, by removing tribal ownership, ‘a communal way of life, according to which land was owned by tribes’. Instead, Māori land was to be owned by ‘one person or by a comparatively small group of substantial owners with whom it is easy to deal’.2 Under the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, Māori land owned by four or fewer people was reclassified as ‘European land’. These changes made it easier to alienate remaining areas of tribal land, and Māori were outraged by them. A new generation who had been raised and educated in the cities realised they were in danger of losing one of the foundations of their Māoritanga.

  1. Hunn Report, quoted in Te Ao Hou 34 (March 1961), (accessed 15 November 2011). Back
  2. Quoted in G. V. Butterworth and H. R. Young, Maori Affairs. Wellington: Iwi Transition Agency; GP Books, 1990, p. 97. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Ngā take Māori – government policy and Māori - Depression, war and urbanisation, 1930s to 1960s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 August 2022)

Story by Mark Derby, published 20 Jun 2012