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Mike Butler

Protest without end

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A solidarity picnic against a land protest at the Far North Taipa Sailing Club has shown what to do when authorities are reluctant to enforce a trespass order – take direct action. Since the organised protest picnic against a Maori land protest may indicate a turning point, the following quick look at 43 years of treatyist activism shows how the movement has relied upon occupations, marches, and litigation.

Maori protest flickered into life in 1967, with the passing of the Maori Affairs Amendment Act. In what a member of the Maori Council called the last land-grab, the act introduced compulsory conversion of Maori freehold land with four or fewer owners into general land, and increased the powers of the Maori Trustee compulsorily to acquire and sell so-called uneconomic interests in Maori land. 1

Rugby tours to South Africa fanned the flickering flame of Maori protest. Sporting contact with South Africa, especially rugby, resulted in discrimination against Maori players, since the apartheid political system in South Africa did not allow people of different races to play sport together. The umbrella protest group Halt All Racist Tours was formed in 1969. Although Maori were involved in the protests, Pakeha dominated the anti-tour movement.

Protest needs leadership. An activist group, Nga Tamatoa (The Young Warriors), emerged in 1970 out of a conference at Auckland University. The group consisted of mainly urban and university educated Maori who took inspiration from Marxist liberation and indigenous rights movements across the world, including the Maoist American Black Panthers. The group called for the Treaty of Waitangi to be ratified. It organised nationwide petitions to have the Maori language taught in schools, and made submissions on government policy. Nga Tamatoa disrupted the 1971 Waitangi Day ceremony, and in the following year it staged a walkout.

Nga Tamatoa had radical and conservative elements. At first, the radical faction asserting Brown Power and Maori liberation attracted headlines. But the more conservative element took control. They tended to look to liberal elements in the ruling class for change, emphasising self-help programmes for Maori development. 2 Whina Cooper literally took the land protest to the street when she led a march from

Te Hapua in the Far North, starting on September 14, 1975, demanding that no more Maori land would be alienated. The march brought thousands of Maori and supporters to Parliament on October 13 of that year. Te Ropu o te Matakite, the organising committee of the land march, followed revolutionary doctrine in trying to strengthen links with workers, both Pakeha and Maori, who were seen as allies in a class struggle.

By this time, some sort of official response was deemed necessary. The Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1975 established the Waitangi Tribunal as a permanent commission of inquiry to hear grievances against the Crown concerning breaches of the Treaty occurring after 1975.

Yet the government is a many-headed beast. Around the same time, a government body announced a housing development on former Ngati Whatua reserve land in Auckland. Compulsory acquisition had left the Ngati Whatua ki Orakei tribal group holding less than one hectare. Protesters occupied Bastion Point in January 1977 and remained there for 506 days. A large police contingent encircled the protesters on May 25, 1978, on gloomy, overcast day 507. I was there. A Waitangi Tribunal inquiry resulted in much of the land being returned to or vested with Ngati Whatua.

Raglan became the site of protests from 1978, about land that was originally taken during the Second World War for a military airfield. It was not needed for an airfield, but instead of being returned, part of the land became a golf course in 1969. The land was eventually returned to Tainui Awhiro people.

The Lange-Douglas fourth Labour Government brought in a number of initiatives that set the stage for the grievance industry we have today. It extended the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal by way of the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act 1985, giving it the power to examine Maori grievances retrospective to 1840. As a news sub-editor, when I tore this story off the NZPA printer, I remarked that this would open a Pandora’s box. So true . . .it sparked a raft of claims.

The State-Owned Enterprises Act in 1986, which broke-up of old land-holding departments and established new state-owned enterprises, airily declared that the Crown could do nothing “that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”.

A landmark Court of Appeal case (Maori Council v Attorney-General) in 1987 established that the Crown must pay heed to previous Maori ownership in disposal of surplus Crown assets such as land. The court set out a number of principles it saw encapsulated in or derived from the treaty.

The initially innocuous phrase “treaty principles” has created huge unintended consequences, especially as the Waitangi Tribunal set about rewriting New Zealand’s brief history to justify claimed grievances in light of those principles .

A policy of bi-culturalism, after 1984, incorporated Maori personnel, Maori models of organisation, and Maori social practices and cultural symbolism within government bodies. This has developed to the extent that every official function proceeds within the framework of a Maori welcoming ceremony, redolent with feather cloaks, antique stone-age weapons, ritual prayers, and songs.

The devolution of welfare to private Maori social service agencies, which began under the fourth Labour Government, created an unholy alliance between a government following a policy of privatisation and tribal bodies that viewed it as an affirmation of Maori control of all things Maori.

The Bolger National Government, elected in 1990, was concerned that the backlog of treaty claims that had mounted since 1984 created uncertainty for investors because the ownership of a number of key resources was in doubt. Therefore, National tried to end uncertainty by negotiating a full and final settlement of all Treaty of Waitangi claims. 3 The National Government began negotiations with some business leaders and tribal executives resulting in a full and final settlement of fishery claims in the Sealords deal in 1992. This vested $170-million with the Waitangi Fisheries Commission to enable it to buy 50 percent of Sealord Products Ltd, a large, Nelson-based fishing company. The allocation of the fishery resource and proceeds caused disagreement among Maori, particularly between coastal and inland tribes, traditional tribes and newer urban authorities.

A sum of $170-million seemed to be the magic number for treaty settlements back then because major settlements were signed with Tainui (1995) and Ngai Tahu (1998), each of an estimated total value of $170-million.

The lack of transparency in negotiations plus an attempt to evoke a full and final settlement of all remaining Treaty of Waitangi claims by way of the Government’s proposed $1-billion “fiscal envelope”, generated protests – from a handful of Maori activists.

Protests included the attempted chain-sawing of One Tree Hill pine tree in October 1994, the beheading of the Ballance statue at Moutoa Gardens, the occupation of Wanganui’s Moutoa Gardens (twice) and the Takahue school in Northland (leading to its destruction by fire), the occupation of Rotowhio marae at Whakarewarewa in Rotorua , the occupation of the former Tamaki Girls’ College in Auckland, of the court house at Patea, of the Taumaranui police station site, and Kaitaia Airport.

Disaffected Tainui members questioned whether the tribe’s decision-making body, the Tainui Trust Board had a mandate to make the $170-million settlement with the Government. Such disputes over mandate erupted within other tribal groups preparing for a settlement. No government since 1985 has sought a mandate from the entire voting, taxpaying population to proceed with such settlements, so the question remains whether any mandate exists.

Te Ture Whenua Maori Act was passed in 1993 after discussion led largely by the New Zealand Maori Council. The act makes it difficult to purchase Maori land, and it seeks to overcome the problems of fragmentation of titles among multiple owners by providing for various kinds of trusts for managing the land.

The Court of Appeal lobbed a legal grenade into the public arena in 2003 by ruling, in Attorney-General v Ngati Apa, that: the Crown was wrong to contend that certain statutes affecting the foreshore and seabed had extinguished such Maori customary title as might exist; and the Maori Land Court has jurisdiction, under Te Ture Whenua Maori/Maori Land Act 1993, to determine whether any part of the foreshore and seabed is still Maori customary land.

The Clark-Cullen government reacted promptly, proposing to vest ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the Crown and guarantee public access. The activist network plus recently organised tribal bodies got an estimated 15,000 people to march on Parliament in May 2004 to protest against the legislation. The Maori Party was established in July 2004 in direct response. The Foreshore and Seabed Act was passed in November 2004 — contentiously. Many Maori argued that the legislation ignored their customary rights and breached the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Key-led National government, elected in 2008, proposed to settle the foreshore wrangle by way of its fraught Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, and aims to settle all historical Treaty of Waitangi claims by 2014. Prime Minister John Key famously surmised that the foreshore and seabed issue was a weeping sore, and also surmised that he thought the solution was quite simple. His simple solution was subsequently revealed as having no one own the coastal area and have interested tribal bodies settle customary claims in private negotiations with a Minister of the Crown.

With one occupation and no hikois, it looks pretty much like the activists support the National Party’s latest foreshore and seabed bill. Some muted dissent from one or two tribal bodies and Maori Party MP Hone Harawira sought to create the appearance of decisive leadership from our fearless leaders. Not a peep from Nga Tamatoa — a number of the original members are tied up with settling their own multi-million dollar claims. The only fly in the ointment for the Key-led Government is significant opposition from the Coastal Coalition and the ACT Party.

John Key is the 10th prime minister since 1967 to deal with Maori protest, while some activists on the other side have been chipping away at the issues continually for 43 years. At some stage will realise that the solution to the foreshore and seabed wrangle is not as simple as he thinks.

If the coastal area bill becomes law, non-iwi New Zealand may have to study the methods of the Maori protest movement. A lesson from the Taipa occupation is that if the authorities fail to enforce the law, the residents should implement some direct action – if 20 protesters build shacks and unfurl banners, send along 200 residents. Make sure residents are there when reporters show up in these made-for-media stunts.