Important features of the early stages of the Crown’s attempt to address Māori grievances included:
- the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906, which led to some transfers of land, most of which proved unsuitable
- the lakes agreements of 1922 and 1926, by which Te Arawa and Tūwharetoa tribes accepted annual compensation and other concessions in return for giving up claims to ownership of the Rotorua lakes and Lake Taupō
- the Crown’s growing recognition that tribes that had lost large tracts of land, especially through Crown confiscation, would continue to agitate until action was taken to compensate them.
Rid the records
When introducing the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906, Native Minister Sir James Carroll said, ‘[W]e are coming now to a point when we will have to settle … claims which, I regret to say, have been in existence too long. Generations have passed away with promises unfulfilled; but we have reached that stage now when, I think, these matters should be settled, so as to clear our consciences and rid the records of any stigma attachable to the reputation of the colony and the Government.’1
Commissions of inquiry
Two commissions of inquiry, the Jones Commission of 1919–20 and the Sim Commission of 1926–27 (published in 1928), concluded (to the government’s discomfort) that Māori had been treated unjustly in the past. The commissions found that past governments should have exhibited a ‘more liberal spirit’ in their dealings with the Ngāi Tahu people of the South Island, and that some North Island tribes had been subjected to unjust or excessive land confiscation. Financial compensation was recommended.
Negotiations and settlements
Negotiations began with the major tribes affected by the recommendations of these commissions. These negotiations dragged on for many years, partly because the government would not consider returning land, the most precious lost resource. The economic depression, the start of the Second World War and the desire of other tribes for negotiations all delayed progress. However, settlements were finalised in 1944 for Taranaki and Ngāi Tahu iwi, in 1946 for Waikato–Maniapoto iwi, and in later years for some other tribes. Compensation was monetary, and broadly followed the recommendations of the commissions some two to three decades earlier. In return, the iwi had to accept that these settlements would be final.
The money would be paid to tribal trust boards, following a precedent set by the lakes settlements of the 1920s. The amount was small by modern standards – £3,000 annually for Ngāi Tahu for 30 years (around $270,000 annually in 2021 terms), and £5,000 annually paid permanently to Taranaki and Waikato iwi (around $450,000 in 2021 terms), with £1000 ($90,000) extra per annum for Waikato for 45 years and a £300 ($27,000) payment to Taranaki to compensate for the destruction of property during the invasion of Parihaka in 1881. As the decades went by, inflation greatly lowered the value of these payments. Some adjustments were made, but the original settlements were increasingly seen as forced and unreasonable. The point of the compensation had been to right the wrongs of the past, and this had clearly not happened.
The huge Māori migration to the towns and cities in the decades after the Second World War transformed Māori into a largely urban people. Yet Māori reaffirmed their rangatiratanga through both tribal resilience and reorganisation in cities and large towns. From the early 1970s a political and cultural flourishing, generally called the Māori renaissance, added Māori voices to those of peoples elsewhere in the world who demanded indigenous rights.
As the Māori renaissance gained momentum, demands for the Crown to honour the Treaty of Waitangi came from many different groups, including urban-based Māori and their Pākehā supporters. The return of tribal land formed a central part of these demands. At the same time, due to a faltering economy from the 1970s, Māori were increasingly economically marginalised. Restoring an economic base to Māori became an important element in asserting rangatiratanga.