Sunday, April 25, 2010

War and the Otaki Womens' Community Club

Madz pointed out in comments on the last post that the settler government in the 19th century used legislation, backed up by military force, to take land from Maori. Important point!

So I wanted to write a bit more about that - because it's one way to see the colonisation of this country as part of a bigger picture that continues today - and affects everyone in different ways. (Including the Otaki Women's Community Club).

Why talk about it?
Sometimes in conversations I had while working on the Taranaki War exhibition, I heard people say words to the effect that as Maori their issue was - at its heart - not with individual Pakeha but with the juggernaut that is the Western system and way of government.

Another thing that was brought up often was the usefulness of finding common ground between Maori and Pakeha to help promote conversation and the understanding.

Well, I reckon that this idea of battling with legislative authority is one way of finding some common ground.

Back to the nineteenth century ...
So the British moved into this land that was governed by Maori law and custom. Once here, they set up their own authorities and wrote legislation (both here and in Britain) giving themselves their own permission to - bit by bit - take control of this land.

Perhaps the most infamous duo of laws is the 1863 Suppression of Rebellion Act and the 1863 NZ Settlement Act.

In combination, these laws assumed that Maori defending their land from illegal sales and military occupation were ‘in rebellion’ and could be punished - and that the punishment would be 'confiscation' (i.e. seizure) of their land.

Over a million acres of land were seized from Taranaki region Maori in this way, and a lot more around other parts of the country - although I don't know figures.

Law upon law
Over the decades the government put a further cocktail of laws into place that ensured Maori were pushed off and had no access to the vast majority of their own land. There are way too many to detail here. Maybe I'll list some in another post.

I'll just add that when bits of law didn't work with the government's goals, it either -

a) ignored them (e.g. from what I understand, the 1852 NZ Constitution Act says that some parts of New Zealand would remain ’Maori districts’, continuing to operate under Maori law and custom. This didn't happen.)


b) wrote new laws to close the loopholes. (E.g. the 1894 Native Land (Validation of Titles) Act Amendment Act simply and sweepingly declared many previous illegal purchases of Māori land to be legal. It's been nicknamed the ‘1894 Validation of Invalid Land Sales Act’!)

Government and business
Western governments have a long history of being entwined in myriad ways with powerful business interests, and certainly this was happening during the New Zealand colonisation period.

British land dealers and others were keen to get their hands on New Zealand land and resources, and were pressuring the government to ensure they could. (It worked.)

So this is where the common ground comes in.

I suspect that most people in New Zealand have, or will, at least once or twice in their life feel that their independence, self-reliance, and/or wellbeing is being thwarted by a law or regulation that seems to operate in favour of larger businesses/operators and discriminate against individuals, communities, or small businesses who are hurting no one, but just trying to get by or do their own thing.

Which brings me - at last - to the Otaki Womens' Community Club! This is the most recent example of that that I know of.

It's easy to feel that when you are hit with some kind of restriction like this, which seems to make no good sense, that it's an anomaly.

But there are people in New Zealand (and elsewhere) constantly bumping up against these kinds of crazy rules in many spheres - health, education, art, economy, and more. You don't always think about these rules too much until you actually come up against them, but they're a systemic problem.

And I think it is a big part of what colonisation was and is (with colonisation of course being on a vastly larger scale ...)

Trying to sum up ...
Legislation has always been a vital implement in the government/big-business toolbox. And it's this government/large-business pairing that colonised New Zealand and continues to strike at ordinary people's self-reliance in many ways both big and small.

I'm not for a minute saying that all individuals enforcing such legislation are thinking, 'Harrharr! I'm a tool of the state and I'm going to crush these pesky independents!!' (Although some of them might be ... who knows?)

I'm just saying that the western government system is and has always been very well set up to make sure large business interests are protected in an ongoing way, and the less powerful may get forced out, or tossed aside along the way.

Colonisation was/is a very extreme, far-reaching and horrific case of that. And now the process goes on, with most of us subject to it one small way or another. (I would argue that the economic crisis/recession has been another very large example of it .... but that's definitely another post ...)

Right, family wants me off the computer, so I guess that's the end of my rant!