MPs lack breadth of vision shown in 1870 dealings with Maori

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Rejecting an offer to participate in the Super City insults tangata whenua, says David Simmons.

Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

We all know that New Zealand was the first country to give the vote to women in 1893, but do we know too that 25 years earlier Maori became members of Parliament?

In 1865 Maori members were appointed as a temporary measure. In 1867 the Maori Representation Act laid out the provisions, that is the Maori Electoral Districts in which the Maori could be elected. In 1870 the Representation Act (1870) was passed. This provided for 74 European members and four Maori members. It was understood by the Maori elders of the time that the four Maori members represented the proportionate representation of Maori in the total population of the time.

The extension of membership in the Parliament to the indigenous people has to be seen in the context of the times. New Zealand was at the end of a devastating series of local wars which had been labelled as "rebellions" in the North, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay, the Urewera and Taranaki.

Those eligible to become registered voters had to be landowners. This, known as the property franchise, applied to those who owned land as sole owners. Some of the chiefs qualified as voters as did some Maori female chiefs. These latter were the first women in the world to be accorded the vote. Some Pakeha men found that if they married land-owning Maori women they not only became the owners of their wife's land but also became eligible voters. Women's land and goods under the marriage laws became their husband's property. The property qualification was dropped in 1908 when residence became the criterion.

The extension of the right to put forward representatives in Parliament followed on the establishment of the Native Council, set up by act in 1860 as an advisory body. This in turn arose from the resolution by both houses that the House "recognises to its fullest extent the territorial rights of the natives, whether chief or people as guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi".

MPs at the time, such as H. Sewell and C. W. Richmond, were called "humanists" but they were men whose vision included the future of their country. The Royal Commission report on the future governance of Auckland displayed a similar "humanist" long-term vision. This time around the parliamentarians lack the vision. In withdrawing the offered participation in decision-making within the new Super City they have insulted the tangata whenua. Apihai Te Kawau, the chief of Ngati Whatua ki Tamaki in 1840, invited Lieutenant Hobson to shift his capital to Tamaki makau rau. Hobson came, and with Felton Matthew, laid out the future town of Auckland. Apihai's descendants have lost so much as a result but they still hold the mana for Tamaki makau rau. This last event has left them wondering whether the people who accepted their invitation should not be told to go back where they came from.

* David Simmons has been an ethnologist at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

- NZ Herald

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