Story: Ngā take Māori – government policy and Māori

Page 5. Māori renaissance, 1970s to 2000s

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Waitangi Tribunal

The Labour government elected in 1972 appointed Matiu Rata of Ngāti Kurī minister of Māori affairs. The responsibilities of the Maori Affairs Department were redefined to include:

  • retaining Māori land for its owners’ benefit
  • promoting the health, education and general wellbeing of Māori.

The most objectionable provisions of the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967 – which had allowed Māori land to be steadily alienated – were repealed. Marae and community centres received increased subsidies, and new urban marae were built. Most significantly, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to hear claims by Māori of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, and to recommend compensation when breaches were proved.

Kōhanga Reo and mātua whāngai

In 1977 Kara Puketapu (Te Āti Awa) became the second Māori to serve as secretary of Māori affairs. Puketapu empathised with the needs of urban Māori and introduced important initiatives such as kōhanga reo (a national network of Māori-language preschool centres) and matua whāngai (an attempt to reduce Māori youth offending by involving the wider family).

Fighting for recognition

By the 1980s Māori were insisting on a much greater degree of control over the government institutions that affected their lives. Māori Affairs Secretary Dr Tamati Reedy said in 1986, ‘Throughout nearly 150 years of contact of the Maori people with successive governments, there has been no proper recognition accorded to iwi, as legitimate structures to negotiate with or to take responsibility for Maori people’s development.’1

Māori heading Māori institutions

By 1980 Māori held a number of leading positions in the administration of the government where it had a direct bearing on Māori. The chair of the Waitangi Tribunal and chief judge of the Māori Land Court (Eddie Durie), the minister of Māori affairs (Ben Couch) and the secretary of Māori affairs (Kara Puketapu) were all Māori.

Honouring the treaty

The 1984 Labour government was the first in New Zealand’s history to commit to honouring the Treaty of Waitangi. It greatly extended the powers and resources of the Waitangi Tribunal, and all government departments were instructed to take the principles of the treaty into account in new legislation. The government also transferred some government funding spent on Māori to the control of tribally based Māori organisations.

Restructuring the state

The major changes to the entire public service from the mid-1980s affected Māori more severely than non-Māori. Large state employers such as the railways, forests and Post Office were restructured and many Māori became unemployed. With the aim of building economic independence for Māori, treaty settlements and court decisions transferred significant resources back to Māori in compensation for treaty breaches.

‘Hawaiian loans affair’

In late 1986 MP Winston Peters alleged in Parliament that Māori Affairs Secretary Dr Tamati Reedy proposed to borrow $300 million from overseas financiers to fund Māori business development. The loan had not been authorised by the minister of finance and although the deal did not proceed, the allegations led to the Department of Maori Affairs being abolished, and replaced by Te Puni Kōkiri in 1992.

Te Puni Kōkiri

In 1989 the department was replaced by two interim bodies – the Iwi Transition Agency and the Ministry of Maori Affairs. Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK), the Ministry of Māori Development, replaced both these agencies in 1992. TPK has since been a policy agency advising government and monitoring Māori services by other government agencies.

Tino rangatiratanga

Some have said that the restructure of government structures for dealing with Māori is a positive response to Māori calls for ‘tino rangatiratanga’. The Waitangi Tribunal has defined this term as Māori having ‘rights to manage their own policy, resources and affairs within minimum parameters necessary for the operation of the state’.2 However, others believe that reducing the involvement of government in Māori issues has further marginalised Māori within New Zealand society.

Closing the Gaps

In the 1999 general election, the Labour Party campaigned successfully on a strategy of ‘Closing the Gaps’ between Māori and non-Māori. In 2004 National Party leader Don Brash attacked Closing the Gaps as a race-based policy that would create a racially divided New Zealand. The strategy was later adapted towards reducing social inequities in general, rather than specifically for Māori. Te Puni Kōkiri has since adopted a ‘Māori Potential Approach’, to support Māori to develop their collective resources and skills

  1. Quoted in G. V. Butterworth and H. R. Young, Maori Affairs. Wellington: Iwi Transition Agency; GP Books, 1990. Back
  2. Waitangi Tribunal, Taranaki report: kaupapa tuatahi (Wai 143). Wellington: GP Publications, 1996, p. 4. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Ngā take Māori – government policy and Māori - Māori renaissance, 1970s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 August 2022)

Story by Mark Derby, published 20 Jun 2012