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The original population of New Zealand, whose relationship with the European settlers coming into the country was first defined in the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840. At that time, there were around 100,000 Maoris living in New Zealand.

Adaptation to Pakhea influence (from 1900)

By 1896 that figure had reached an all-time low of 43,113, mainly through disease. However, their immune systems gradually adjusted to European viruses. In addition, a generation of new leaders emerged in 1900, gathered together in the Young Maori Movement. They were graduates from Te Aute College, and believed that, since pakeha (White) culture was there to stay, it was necessary for Maoris to adapt to that culture and society as much as possible. Prominent Young Maori leaders such as Buck, Pomare, and Ngata gained considerable influence in the New Zealand government, which became increasingly concerned with Maori affairs. As a result, living conditions (e.g. housing) and sanitation were considerably improved, and this facilitated a growth of the Maori population.

At the same time, Maori life remained more influenced by traditional tribalism than by White culture. Community life, which was still largely restricted to the countryside, remained influenced not so much by its MPs as by tribal leaders, deriving their authority from custom and genealogy. In this way Te Puea, who was born into a Waikato paramount family, affected Maori life much more than any leader of the Young Maori Movement.

Maori renewal (from 1918)

In 1918 the Ratana movement began, a spiritual movement of Maori renewal which in the 1920s became increasingly preoccupied with politics. It replaced the Young Maori Movement as the political representation of the Maori tribes during the 1930s. It increased its political effectiveness through entering an alliance with the Labour Party, which was in office 1935–49. Especially under Fraser (1940–9), attitudes began to shift, from encouraging Maoris to apply themselves to pakeha culture to supporting the development of an ‘independent, self-reliant and satisfied Maori race working side by side with the pakeha and with equal incentives, advantages, and rewards for efforts in all walks of life’ (Fraser, 1949).

Just as this became accepted (and it took some time for this view to be adopted by the National Party, which was in power 1949–57, 1960–72), it became clear that this ideal was far removed from reality. Mass Maori participation in World War II had created unprecedented interaction between Maoris and pakehas, while after the war many Maoris moved to urban areas, where they were exposed to White culture more than ever before (in 1926, 9 per cent of Maoris lived in towns, in 1951 19 per cent, in 1954 24 per cent, and in 1990 over 75 per cent). It became clear that they were effectively discriminated against in employment, income, and housing.

Assertion of rights (from the 1950s)

Participation in the war had also increased Maori self-confidence and assertiveness. This was further encouraged by a decline in tribal identities (mainly because of urbanization), which led to a more united, Maori identity. Maori interest groups formed, such as the influential Maori Women's Welfare League (est. 1951), and regional educational conferences were held in the early 1960s to raise Maori political consciousness. The 1962 Maori Welfare Act established local Maori committees to raise Maori concerns in towns and districts, and these were summarized in the New Zealand Maori Council, which subsequently came to articulate Maori demands nationwide. In 1971, Maoris decided to boycott the Treaty of Waitangi Day celebrations (the national holiday), with the Council citing fourteen major Acts that were a direct violation of the Treaty of Waitangi. In response, the new Labour government (1972–5) established the Treaty of Waitangi Act, which established the Waitangi Tribunal in 1976. This could only decide on violations against the Treaty of Waitangi committed after 1976, but the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act 1985 made grievances that could be addressed by the court retrospective to 1840.


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