Do you know, as a country, how close we came to losing Maori as a race and as a culture? At the time Cook re-discovered New Zealand in 1769 he estimated there were around 100,000 Maori. Taking into account the estimated arrival time of Maori 1100–1400 experts in demographics nowadays support this estimate.
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The introduction of European diseases in the late 18th and early 19th centuries combined with the Musket Wars of 1810 to 1840 greatly reduced this number to an estimate of 70,000 by the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. This population decline and the racist ideologies of the time combined to fuel fore warnings of Maori extinction.
Incredibly, by today's standards, in 1856 Provincial Superintendent Dr Isaac Featherston said it was the duty of Europeans to "smooth down ... (the) dying pillow of the Maori race".
Between 1840 and 1896 the Maori population reduced further to 39,000 compared to a European population of 672,000. This decrease was exacerbated by European diseases, Insanitary living conditions, war, poverty and the trauma of land loss.
Unbelievably, of Maori girls born in the 1890s, 40 per cent died before their first birthday. Something really had to be done and both Maori and more enlightened Europeans knew this.
Four Maori men emerged as leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were instrumental in helping to turn the tide around for Maori to the extent that Maori survived and thrived in terms of population at least.
Sir James Carroll MP of Ngati Kahungungu and his "young colts" Sir Apirana Ngata MP, Ngati Porou, Sir Maui Pomare MD MP, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Toa and Sir Peter Buck MD MP (Te Rangi Hiroa), Ngati Mutunga combined to form what was then referred as the Young Maori Party, a coalition of educated Maori leaders who decided to put in place strategies around land reform, health and housing to further Maori aspirations and stem the population loss.
This caused disquiet in some Maori communities as they also preached assimilation with European values and way of life and inter-marriage with Europeans as the only way for Maori to survive both as a race and as a proud culture.
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Ngata, Pomare and Buck all attended Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay and were, with other young Maori men, under the influence of the headmaster John Thornton who encouraged pride in their race and imbued them with a mission to save their people from social disintegration.
Ngata qualified in law from Auckland University after obtaining a BA in Political Science from Canterbury University and was the first Maori to graduate from a New Zealand university.
Pomare and Buck studied medicine and qualified as medical doctors, Pomare from an American university and Buck from Otago University. Buck went on to become a world-renowned anthropologist, specialising in the peoples of the Pacific.
Carroll fought long and hard in Parliament for land reform, trying to ensure that Maori regained title to the lands stolen or confiscated by the government prior to, during and after the New Zealand Wars of 1860 to 1872. He did this with some success, supported by Ngata who worked to encourage Maori to farm the land that they managed to save or get back from European control.
Pomare and Buck became Maori Health Officers and worked with Iwi throughout the country to improve the living conditions, health and housing of Maori, thereby stemming the slow flow to possible extinction.
All four men were held in high respect and admiration by Maori and European. Carroll was Acting Prime Minister from 1909 to 1911 whenever the then Prime Minister Joseph Ward was overseas.
To some extent they are unsung heroes in our history. Whilst they believed in assimilation policies this may have helped Maori at the time access the resources needed to survive and thrive back then. Without these four great men this country may not be as rich in history and culture today.
By today's standards New Zealand has a shameful history of war, disease, land theft and poverty, wrapped up in the term colonisation, inflicted on Maori by the British.
This is something we need to face together as a nation if we are to continue to grow as a healthy society in the 21st century. This is also why we need strong, educated young leaders to emerge in both cultures to ensure past mistakes are acknowledged by the Government, apology and redress made where appropriate and past matters forgiven with, hopefully, any further mistakes prevented.
Facts contained in this article have been in academic history texts for more than 100 years but not widely known to the general public who, until very recently, have not been encouraged to learn about New Zealand's colonial history, warts and all.