Story: Tōrangapū – Māori and political parties

Page 1. Creating a Māori electoral system

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New Zealand’s first general election

When New Zealand held its first general election in 1853, there were no political parties. Rather, all candidates stood as independents.

In order to vote at that time you had to be male and either hold individual title to land, or lease or rent lands of a certain value. Few Māori met those requirements, and no Māori were elected.

Creating the Māori seats

In 1867 four new electorates were created specifically for Māori, who would only be able to vote in these electorates. Likewise, Māori candidates could stand only in Māori electorates, unless they had one non-Māori parent and then they could stand in either a Māori or a general electorate.

There were several reasons behind the creation of these electorates:

  • Liberals in the United Kingdom promoted equality between Māori and non-Māori.
  • Extra electorates had recently been created in the South Island for goldminers. By creating only one Māori electorate in the South Island and three in the North Island the power balance between the islands was maintained.
  • The government wanted to placate Māori who held deep grievances after the New Zealand wars.
  • It was hoped the new electorates would help break down the influence of Māori organisations and religious movements that were opposed to the sale of Māori lands.

Creating the Māori electorates was originally seen as a temporary measure. Officials expected that once all Māori land was in individual title, Māori would vote in general seats and there would be no further need for Māori seats. Instead, the seats remain a unique feature of the New Zealand electoral system in the 21st century.

Protesting process

When the four Māori parliamentary seats were created in 1867, Ngāpuhi prophet Āperahama Taonui protested, ‘What are these four to do among so many Pakehas; where will their voices be as compared with the Pakeha voices?’1 Along with other Ngāpuhi leaders he believed candidates should be appointed through tribal consultation. He was himself selected by numerous chiefs as the best candidate for the Northern Māori seat. However, the European ballot system was used instead and Frederick Nene Russell, the son of a European shipbuilder and a Māori woman of mana, was nominated and elected unopposed. The chiefs refused to participate in the vote.

The first Māori MPs

In 1868 Frederick Nene Russell became the MP for Northern Māori and Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi (Ngā Poutama and Ngāti Tumango) the MP for Western Māori. Both men were elected unopposed. In Eastern Māori, Tāreha Te Moananui (Ngāti Kahungunu) won by a single vote. Southern Māori saw a three-way contest, won by John Patterson.

The first Māori MPs had to deal with serious language barriers. Few parliamentary bills, papers or documents were translated into te reo Māori and few Pākehā MPs could understand parliamentary speeches given in Māori without the aid of an interpreter. From 1881 to 1906 speeches in Māori were printed in Nga Korero Paramete (a Māori version of Hansard) but all other parliamentary business was in English.

Later Māori MPs

In subsequent elections, the Northern Māori electorate was won by Wiremu Kātene, Hōri Karaka Tawhiti, Īhaka Hakuene and Hirini Taiwhanga. Eastern Māori was represented by Karaitiana Takamoana and Hēnare Tomoana between 1871 and 1883. Wiremu Parata, Hoani Nahe, Wiremu Te Wheoro and Te Puke Te Ao represented Western Māori between 1871 and 1884. Meanwhile, following Patterson in Southern Māori were Hōri Kerei Taiaroa, Īhāia Tainui and, from 1885, Tame Parata of Ngāi Tahu.

The Young Māori Party

From the late 19th century young graduates of Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay formed a loose association called the Young Māori Party. Te Rangi Hīroa (also known as Peter Buck), Māui Pōmare and Apirana Ngata were Young Māori Party members who went on to become MPs dedicated to improving the social and economic position of Māori. Each pursued his political goals by aligning himself with one of the major political parties, and they were characterised by their ability to work in both the Pākehā and Māori worlds.

  1. Quoted in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 14 August 1868, p. 493. Back
How to cite this page:

Ann Sullivan, 'Tōrangapū – Māori and political parties - Creating a Māori electoral system', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

Story by Ann Sullivan, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 18 Jul 2016