The Waikato war was fought 150 years ago but land confiscations that resulted from defeat are still as raw today, a Waikato-Tainui spokesman told Radio New Zealand on Friday, the anniversary of that war. Although Waikato-Tainui executive chair Tom Roa said the tribe has moved on from grievance mode to one of prosperity, his attitude on the confiscations implies that despite 1995 “settlement” of $170-million, grievance is never far from the surface.
Reports of the commemoration of the 1863 Waikato war make much of tribal bitterness at land confiscations but don’t consider what would have resulted if the government of the day had failed to act.
If British victory in the 1860s wars set the course of New Zealand’s development, it is likely British inaction would have led to escalating attacks on small coastal settlements by well-armed, lawless, and hostile tribes that dominated the interior of the North Island.
The resulting casualties would have far exceeded the 619 anti-government Maori and 162 British, colonist, and pro-government Maori killed in the 1863 campaign. The colonial government had no option but to win
Proposed confiscations were contentious at the time. Former chief justice Sir William Martin then argued that the confiscation of Maori-owned land would only result in a “brooding sense of wrong”. Even Native Minister Donald McLean said the confiscations were an expensive mistake.
But the threat of land confiscation was the one option that pushed chiefs to decide whether to join the new economy or try to relive the glory days of perpetual war.
The confiscated Waikato territory initially comprised 1,202,172 acres (486,501ha), including virtually all of Waikato north of a line drawn from Raglan to Tauranga. Approximately 314,364 acres (127,218ha) was returned to those Waikato Maori who were judged not to have rebelled. The area finally confiscated totalled 887,808 acres (359,283ha).
Waikato-Tainui spokesman Roa said the invasion of Waikato had a horrendous effect, causing Maori to become a landless, poverty stricken people. But the poverty was largely to do with the fact that Waikato tribes shunned the settler economy.
After the wars ended in 1872, the King Country remained closed to settlers for more than a decade, until Ngati Maniapoto leaders agreed to the construction of the North Island Main Trunk railway in the mid 1880s.
The re-written history included in the the Waikato-Tainui Deed of Settlement presents the fiction of the Crown engaging in war against Maori in the Waikato for no apparent reason and unjustly taking large areas of land.
The deed fails to accept that Waikato Maori were deeply involved with Wiremu Kingi in the Taranaki War of 1860, and Kingi himself was involved in Waikato fighting.
If there is any doubt about what took place in New Zealand during the 1860s, there are numerous letters, statements, and news reports from the time that that show it was a struggle between supporters of the Maori king against supporters of the British Queen. Missionary Reverend Morgan summed up the struggle when he wrote to parliament at the time saying:
The vital question with the Maori Kingites now, is whether the King or the Queen shall possess the mana of New Zealand. Hence the frequent expression of the Waikatos now in arms, “we are going to fight for New Zealand. We sent the king’s flag to Taranaki, and it is our duty to follow the king’s flag. We are fighting for the mana of our island”.
The British government acquired sovereignty over New Zealand by treaty of cession, by proclamation, by occupation, and by conquest. After more than 20 years of settler occupation and government, the wars of the 1860s meant the issue of sovereignty finally was decided with unwilling tribes on the battlefield, by conquest.
A commemoration dawn service was held at Mangatawhiri on Friday morning, marking the date when, on July 12, 1863, troops crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream into Waikato, sparking a nine month conflict in which 4000 tribalists fought 14,000 government troops comprising soldiers, settlers, and pro-government Maori.
The 1995 payout is not the first confiscation settlement Waikato tribes have received.
The Waikato-Maniapoto Maori Claims Settlement Act 1946 was a final settlement of grievances over the confiscation of Maori lands in the Waikato and provided for the establishment of the Tainui Maori Trust Board to receive ₤5000 a year in perpetuity plus a further ₤5000 and £1000 a year for 45 years, to cover arrears since 1936, when negotiations with the Labour government began. Tainui received £4155 in 1948 as part of a surplus lands settlement.
In addition, Waikato-Tainui last year received the first relativity top-up payment. Waikato-Tainui and South Island tribe Ngai Tahu have such in their settlements allowing a percentage of all treaty settlements over $1-billion in 1994 dollars. The top-up amount offered to Waikato-Tainui was $70-million, although Tainui politician Tukoroirangi Morgan argued they were entitled to in excess of $120-million.
Waikato-Tainui call the Waikato war an “invasion”, and argue that because their main chief Te Wherowhero did not sigh the treaty they were not obliged to keep to the terms of the treaty. Similarly, the government held that Maori who fought against the government had repudiated the treaty.
But in 1985, when the Lange-Palmer Labour government allowed claims back to 1840, Waikato-Tainui then alleged the colonial government had breached the treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is reproduced at the start of the 1995 Waikato-Tainui Deed of Settlement.