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Mãori Committees

"The Maori Committees lay at the heart of the Council structure" 


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Yellow Border Mountains Photo Travel Mag

The Maori Committees form the basis of the New Zealand Maori Council and are an integral part of both our structure and whakapapa. Maori Committees of the Council fall under the Maori Community Development Act (1962) and are defined as follows:

Maori Committee areas

(1) Any area which, at the commencement of this Act, is declared a Tribal Committee area under section 14 of the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945 shall be deemed to be a Maori Committee area.

(2) A District Maori Council may, by resolution, alter the boundaries of any Maori Committee area, or amalgamate 2 or more Maori Committee areas, or constitute a new Maori Committee area, within the district of the Council.

(3) Each District Maori Council shall assign a name by which each Maori Committee area within its district shall be described and known and may from time to time, by resolution, amend any such name.


Maori Committees

(1) For the purposes of this Act there shall be a Maori Committee for every Maori Committee area constituted under section 8.

(2) Each Maori Committee shall consist of 7 members elected in accordance with this Act: provided that in any case where a District Maori Council considers it desirable to do so, it may by resolution increase the number of members to be elected to any Maori Committee in the district of the Council to such number as it thinks fit.

(3) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2), the members of every Tribal Committee in office at the commencement of this Act under section 15 of the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945 shall be deemed to be members of the Maori Committee for the Maori Committee area in respect of which those members were appointed or elected.

(4) Any alteration in the boundaries of a Maori Committee area shall not affect the membership of the Maori Committee elected in respect of that area and each member in office at the date of the resolution effecting the alteration shall, unless his office otherwise becomes vacant, remain in office until the next triennial election.

(5) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2), where 2 or more Maori Committee areas are amalgamated, all the members of the Maori Committees elected in respect of the amalgamated areas and in office at the date of the resolution effecting the amalgamation shall, unless their offices otherwise become vacant, remain in office until the next triennial election.

(6) Where a new Maori Committee area is constituted, an election of members of the Maori Committee for the area shall be held as soon as practicable after the constitution of the area.


A short analysis of the establishment of the Maori Council system:

Establishing the New Zealand Maori Council System

It was not long before the apparent respect for traditional tribalism by the government was revealed to be chimerical. On the advice of Hunn and other key officials, the National leadership quickly decided to fully overhaul the 1945 official committee structure. This was particularly aimed at both addressing the reality of the urbanising process and providing greater transparency about the Crown’s policy intentions with regard to ‘modernising’ Maoridom and further reducing tribal influence. The new ministry had given tribal chiefs the higher levels of representation they and other traditionalists had sought, and undertook some consultation about the future. But it took pains to stress that ‘conservative’ attitudes about protecting tribalism would not be endorsed by the Crown. On the contrary, the government symbolised its intentions to accelerate detribalisation by declaring that it would remove tribal nomenclature from the official committee system. The old titles were depicted as both anachronistic for a population dominated by the experiences of urban migration and out of kilter with the government’s ‘one people’ vision. The state, encouraged by its relationship with the leaders forming the new Maori Council of Tribal Executives, intended to intensify its focus on ‘Maoridom’ as a way of encouraging the assimilation processes. It would view Maori as an entity with which it could deal at a national level, rather than as a congeries of tribal and post-tribal communities.

Traditional tribal leaders did gain quid pro quos during discussions with state representatives over this strategy. First, the new national body would be allowed to remain the legal representative of Maoridom even though it was dominated by the tribally-rooted rural regions. While their leaders’ policies had often differed markedly from those of the MPs selected by both urban and rural voters, then, those leaders were to be deemed officially representative of the entire Maori people. Secondly, it was tribal leaders who would benefit most from the degree of rangatiratanga accorded Maori under the new proposals. While the revised system would still be a statutory one and hence inexorably linked with the Crown, the committees underpinning its structures, the majority of them rural, were finally to be freed from the ex officio presence of DMA officials. The central official voice of Maoridom, however constrained by its official parameters, could therefore be said by its supporters to embody an untainted expression of flaxroots opinion; whatever the degree of truth of this, the perspectives of traditional tribalism and rangatira would continue to loom large in the official structures for Maoridom. However, the fact remained that any national Maori council would be tasked with overseeing on behalf of the Crown the continuing evolution of Maoridom, and providing a kind of state-approved version of kotahitanga/unity. The Crown expected that separate and autonomous Maori strands of New Zealand society, whatever the new organisational concessions to rangatiratanga, would disappear – certainly faster than would be the case if tribal identity were encouraged (although few observers or advisers thought that Maori would abandon all of their cultural characteristics, at least not in the foreseeable future).

With the renaming of the various levels of the official system, the central and regional bodies became the New Zealand Maori Council (NZMC) and District Maori Councils respectively. The Tribal Committees and Tribal Executives became Maori Committees and Maori Executive Committees. Together, the various parts were to be called ‘Maori Associations’, although the system became widely known under the title of the central body, the NZMC. The revamped structure was to be even more closely modelled on that of the national Maori organisation which the government regarded as a success, the Maori Women’s Welfare League, despite (and, in some ways, because of) the league’s capacity to represent widely-held Maori views which could be challenging for the Crown. Understanding oppositional views was a prerequisite for containing them. Before long, Maori commentators saw the removal of tribal-based terminology as reflective of a new phenomenon: while the Crown had seemingly abandoned its fear of Maori unity, it had done so on the basis of a new assimilationist strategy of (in John Rangihau’s words) ‘unite … and rule’. Ritchie, who would become a key adviser to Waikato–Tainui tribes, saw the move as a government attempt to utilise a widely held belief among Maori people of the existence of ‘a resurgent Maoritanga, of a cultural renaissance, of a national Maori identity’. It had suited the Crown, he believed, to act ‘as though Maori nationalism were, if not an accomplished fact, at least a potential reality’. It could do so with some hope of success, he believed, because its detection of an increasing Maori identification as a resurgent people did have some basis in observable events and trends.

The Crown’s aim was to find ‘ways in which this mythical nation might represent its views to the Government and yet have in fact no power’. Writing not long after the revamped system was inaugurated, Ritchie suggested that ‘so-called Maori national politics [had] become a shadow theatre whose substance is thin and whose representativeness is more symbolic than real’. He predicted that ‘the genuine political life of the Maori community’, rural or urban, would not be properly represented by any such official national structure. Early in Hanan’s ministry, the non-official Dominion Council of Tribal Executives had told him that while Maori elders were appreciative of an apparent new official willingness to consult, they were ‘sensitive to the difference between a policy which works for them and one which aims at working with them.

Despite such an important caveat, at the time of its formation in 1962, the NZMC was widely welcomed throughout Maoridom as embodying a Crown determination to forge ahead with implementing the recommendations of the Hunn report, many of which Maori supported. It could provide a workable way of consulting an increasingly diverse and dispersed people. Many Maori commentators spoke of the benefits for ‘Maoridom’ that the NZMC would bring, and a pakeha sympathetic to Maori causes could describe the council, in 1968, as the ‘crowning achievement in unifying the Maori people’ around their own causes. In 1963, in the early days of the Maori associations, National even came close to winning the Northern Maori parliamentary seat in a by-election. The Maori associations operating under the NZMC umbrella were embedded in the 1962 Maori Welfare Act (MWA), which replaced the (amended) Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act of 1945. Central to the long-term structural and conceptual developments in Crown–Maori relations which the new legislation cemented into place was a concern to boost official Maori organisation in the cities and towns. The mostly rural district council regions which elected the NZMC would help the Crown ensure that conservatism (of method, if not of aspiration, at least as far as mainstream New Zealand was concerned) prevailed at top levels. The base of the new welfare system, the Maori committee, was defined non-tribally, being ‘elected by the Maori public of a given area to administer matters of Maori interest’. In rural areas, however, its boundaries generally reflected marae-based organisation. In turn, the Maori committees elected two to three delegates to Maori executive committees (MECs), ‘which deal with matters of common interest to a group of Maori Committees’. In 1963, there were 477 flaxroots committees and 84 executive committees.

The community or neighbourhood committees at the base of the structural pyramid were, at first, generally just the old committees under a new name. They continued to do what they had always done, which might not necessarily accord with what officials wanted. The same applied to the MECs they reported to. But these also now had an expanded role, in that they could officially feed ideas to regional level – to the eight district Maori councils (DMCs) to which they elected representatives. Along the way, tribal-aligned influence could be diluted by various means. Seven of the district councils, for example, were based on the Maori Land Court’s boundaries, and these did not always coincide with perceived areas of common tribal interest. There was an additional DMC for the Auckland urban area, giving the migrant people in New Zealand’s largest city considerable voice. The whole structure culminated at national level with the NZMC, where tribe-specific concerns could quite easily be swamped. However, although all levels held elections only at three yearly intervals, many tribal leaders saw the system as both more democratic and responsive to tribal pressures than triennial voting for MPs in the ‘pakeha parliament’, particularly because the various levels could formally liaise with each other and undertake combined action if necessary.

Yet the revamping of the system was aimed, in the final analysis, at putting an end to ‘separate status’ for Maori: the Maori associations would work towards their own quick demise, which would come about when Maori had achieved equality with the dominant ethnicity in modern New Zealand. The words ‘social and economic advancement’ had embodied this ‘egalitarian’ goal in the 1945 legislation, but mass urbanisation and perceived progress in assimilation had altered the conceptual landscape: the ideological urge for rapid removal of difference and discrimination of any type between the races (with the planned disappearance of the positive alongside the negative, after some temporary tolerance) called for a new terminology. It was far from accidental, then, that in the title of the new legislation the term ‘social and economic advancement’ was replaced by ‘Maori welfare’.  Because of the underlying implications of this for rangatiratanga, Tirikatene and the other Maori MPs had been among those Maori leaders fighting for retention of the former term and what it stood for – essentially, a form of modernisation which had a place for tribal and other Maori customs. Proponents of the new ethos argued that while intervention to assist socio-economic advancement remained a significant part of the government’s plans for Maoridom, this was best carried out in conjunction with all other aspects of planning and policy. The term ‘Maori welfare’ was seen to be more attuned to the times: the future welfare of all components of Maoridom lay in moving quickly towards institutions and policies which were solidly integrationist. The government’s reorientation of Maori policy would aim to force the pace of integration in every aspect of Maori life.

State intervention would now be targeted in terms of a totalised conception of the welfare of Maori, rather than being tribally or economically focused. The ‘general aim of the Act is to promote and maintain the health and general well-being of the Maori community’, as the DMA put it. But the ‘general well-being’ of Maori meant, in essence, faster assimilation in all aspects of life than before, speeding up even further what was supposedly already happening as a result of urban migration. For Labour, too, ‘Maori welfare’ had meant, ultimately, Maori disappearance. But that party’s dependence on the Maori vote had made it more receptive (or, as many would see it, less unreceptive) than National to the Maori determination to promote rangatiratanga as well as socio-economic and other types of uplift.

While the Department of Maori Affairs, then, depicted the NZMC system as ‘a form of local government for the Maori people on matters of particular Maori interest’, the intended end result was far different. Aspects of the legislation, indeed, pointed to the government’s long-term anti-autonomist agenda. For example, although ‘appointment to the Maori Council was derived from the flax roots (the Maori committees) authority was dispensed from the top down’ by men subjected to considerable official pressure. While the committees had been unshackled from the DMA, their independence was formally curtailed within their own system, with the NZMC assuming responsibility for functions assigned directly to the committees under the 1945 Act. The new legislation also abolished some local government functions which had been present in the previous system: those relating to such matters as sanitation, water and control of liquor in villages. Hanan considered that with each such specialist function removed from the purview of the Maori institutions franchised by the Crown, ‘we are further along the road to becoming one people’. While the Act would help ‘to perpetuate Maori culture’, in the words of the DMA, this stated aim embodied a rather narrow vision of culture. Both the MWA and its predecessor had been ‘designed to facilitate the full integration of the Maori race into the social and economic structure of the country’, but there were now faster ways of doing so in the changed demographic climate. The New Zealand Maori Council, legally entitled to act on behalf of all Maoridom, was (‘by its own request’, the Crown was wont to note, referring to discussions with Maori leaders leading up to the legislation) ‘charged with the duty of maintaining and promoting harmony between Maori and pakeha’. A number of Maori wondered at the priorities this implied. Soon there were claims about lack of consultation with the people and decisions made ‘without reference even to District Councils’. Increasing numbers of Maori saw the system as ‘an artificial construct of the bureaucratic mind’. They and others emphasised that the NZMC received annual funding from the government, and argued that, even if it felt able to criticise the government from time to time, it still needed to operate within constraints which excluded any possibility of fully-fledged opposition should that be needed. 

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