In the 1890s New Zealand’s first organised political party was formed – the Liberal Party. Its reforming government attracted support from a number of Māori MPs.
The conservative Reform Party, which formally came into being in 1909, appealed to both the farming community and the growing urban middle class.
James Carroll (Ngāti Kahungunu) was elected in Eastern Māori in 1887 and became an early supporter of the Liberal Party. In 1892 he became the first Māori Cabinet minister.
When the Liberal Party promoted the sale of Māori land to settlers, this threatened to weaken Carroll’s Eastern Māori support. However, with an Irish father and Ngāti Kahungunu mother he was eligible to stand in either a Māori or general electorate.
In 1893 he stood in and won Waiapu, becoming the first Māori to win a general seat. In 1908 he was elected MP for Gisborne and in 1910 and 1911 he served briefly as Acting Prime Minister.
Wī Pere (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata) entered Parliament for Eastern Māori in 1884 but was defeated by James Carroll in 1887 and 1889. He was a strong supporter of the Kotahitanga movement which opposed both the sale and lease of Māori lands. In 1893, Wī Pere returned to Parliament for Eastern Māori. He was appointed to the Legislative Council from 1907 to 1912.
Hōne Heke Ngāpua
Hōne Heke Ngāpua (Ngāpuhi) was elected to Parliament in 1893 and represented the people of Northern Māori almost continuously until his death in 1909. He aligned himself with the Liberal Party but sought recognition of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi through a partnership between Māori and the Crown.
Liberal Party supporter Apirana Ngata (Ngāti Porou) represented Eastern Māori from 1905 until 1943, and held the office of native minister from 1928 to 1934. His knowledge of the Pākehā world and his professional skills assisted his efforts to help his people develop and farm their land. He also encouraged the preservation of Māori culture and identity.
Reform Party supporter Taurekareka Hēnare (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) was the Northern Māori representative from 1914 until his 1938 defeat by Paraire Paikea. In 1993 his great-grandson Tau Hēnare won the Northern Māori seat for the newly formed New Zealand First Party. From 2005 to 2014 Tau Henare was a list MP for the National Party.
Māui Pōmare (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Toa), who was aligned with the Reform Party, became minister for the Cook Islands in 1916 and minister of health in 1923. After Pōmare’s death Te Tāite Te Tomo (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Raukawa) was voted in as MP for Western Māori in a by-election.
Liberal versus Reform
The Liberal government set up the 1908 Native Land Commission in response to Māori grievances relating to land loss, but the Reform government offered the first reparation package to Māori. Te Arawa was offered financial compensation in return for ownership and use of Rotorua lakes. Tūwharetoa was later offered compensation for fishing rights in Lake Taupō and its waterways.
Reform governments set up commissions of inquiry to investigate Ngāi Tahu, Whakatōhea, Taranaki and Tainui-Waikato grievances concerning unjust, illegal or excessive land confiscations with the support of both Liberal and Reform Party Māori MPs. This cross-party cooperation continued after United (as the Liberal Party became) and Reform formed a coalition government in 1931