Maori Land Use 3: Wild Claims and Realities

Today we continue the series on the changing pattern of Maori land use and ownership. Historian Bruce Moon has done extensive research on this topic and sets out to dispel misunderstandings about what has often been a contentious area.

 (To read Parts 1 and 2, scroll down to Jun 11 and 19.)

Ngai Tahu claims and profit making

By Bruce Moon

Ngai Tahu representatives need to tell the truth

Continual bleating today about “loss” of land becomes an increasing chorus.  Among the most flagrant is one from pale-faced, red-headed Sacha McMeeking, now no less than the Ngai Tahu member of the University of Canterbury Council.  According to her, “the decision was to settle cheaply – accepting $170m when even the treasury value of dispossessed lands lay between $12 and $15 billion”.[i]  Note the word-twisting: what was sold eagerly is now “dispossessed” while the land today is nothing like the trackless waste of 1840.

And the process continues.  In 2010, Ngai Tahu Corporation, registered as a charitable trust, sold Rakanui Station south of Kaikoura to Margaret Hyde, an American citizen, for several million dollars and in 2011, Ngai Tahu Forest Estates Limited, sold 18,252 hectares of central South Island land to a Swiss company for $22,888,888.[ii]

Nor were this tribe utilising much of what they continued to own.  The 1896 census revealed that Ngai Tahu were cultivating a mere 857.5 acres of 45,000 in their possession.

Dover Samuels speaking before the Waitangi Tribunal stated: “Maori also lost their land, their fisheries, and the rest of their culture” and “unlawful actions by the Department of Maori Affairs [led] to loss of land.”[iii] – wild generalities ignoring legitimate transactions freely entered into.[1]

Land value then and now

Today 5.6% of our land remains under Maori title, just 4% having been confiscated from rebel tribes in the colonial period.  Though precise figures are not available, a considerable amount of land held under fee simple has Maori owners. Arowhenua Trophy winners (for Maori farmer of the year) Dean and Kristen Nikora (2008) and Barton and Nukuhia Hadfield (2013), I surmise, among them.

One Potonga Neilson, whose opinions are often aired in the “Wanganui Chronicle”, claims that the Taranaki tribes should receive $24 billion![iv]  Peter Dey in “Sunlive”[v] states that “the value of land wrongfully taken from Maori by past governments is more than $30 billion. Fair compensation is very simple. It returns what was taken or enough money to buy the equivalent of what was taken.”

Apart from Dey’s wild claims of land “wrongfully taken”, he blatantly omits the critical point that the value of land today is almost wholly owed to the hard labour and investment of settlers and of successive governments in roads, drainage, irrigation, wharves and other infrastructure.

Sold for what is was worth at the time

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Whether that land is worth $30 billion today is utterly beside the point.  It was sold for what it was worth at the time.  Governor Fitzroy, not our most successful governor, did get it exactly right on this point: ‘What is it that makes land valuable?  It is labour … in addition to the price of the land it is for bringing out labourers, and tools, and seeds, and cattle, in ships; for … roads, and bridges, and surveys, and many other things.  The payment for the land only is very small.”[vi]

Tory, E.G. Wakefield and Whig, Normanby agreed on this aspect.  In Wakefield’s words, land was to be sold to settlers at ‘a sufficient price’.  This price was indeed somewhat more than that paid to Maori owners for the raw land.  In providing funds for infrastructure it was the equivalent of property rates today.

It may be noted also that when in due course rates were levied, owners of Maori land were at times required to pay only half the standard rate or exempted entirely from it. 

The gravy-trainers today conveniently forget this favoured treatment of Maori landowners.

(To be continued.)

Sir Apirana Ngata was one of many Maori leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who wanted Maori children to just learn and speak English.

[1]     This was part of a wider submission which received wide publicity, asking for an apology for the corporal punishment of children for speaking Maori at school.  It is a glaring example of when telling less than half the truth is worse than lying.  What Samuels omitted saying is (1) the policy of speaking only English in schools was a consequence of petitions from Maori parents.  In the 1870s, Maori MP Takamoana sought legislation to ensure that Maori children were taught only in English.  Several petitions in a similar vein were taken to Parliament.  In 1877 Wi Te Hakiro with the support of 336 signatories sought an amendment to the Native Schools Act to require teachers in Maori schools to be ignorant of the Maori language and (2) that in the days in question, corporal punishment was used universally for any breaking of school rules, whatever pupils’ racial background.   Any kind of corporal punishment of children is repellent but that is how it was.


[i]      “The Press”, p. C5, 2nd July 2011

[ii]    “Committee against foreign control of Aotearoa”, August 2011

[iii]   Dover Samuels, “Northern Advocate”, 5th September 2015

[iv]    Potonga Neilson, “Wanganui Chronicle”, 17th June 2014

[v]     Peter Dey, “Sunlive”, 26th May 2017

[vi]    Robert Fitzroy, Official Report, September 1844, quoted by Ian Wishart, “The Great Divide, 2012, p.210

I may be in the minority of one that I don’t think punishment for speaking Maori at school ever happened. At least not serious punishment. The school regulations banning its use make no reference to punishment. I teach English in China and forbid the speaking of Chinese in my College classrooms. I certainly have never imposed penalties for speaking Chinese. Nor have I heard any other teacher do so. It just would not sound right in China. Anyone who tried would draw complaints as I am sure would have happened in schools in Maori districts. Far from having an aversion to learning English in New Zealand and China, the children have eagerly learnt it because they have understood its opening to the wider world. The accusation in N Z is a slander to the thousands of dedicated teachers who taught in Maori districts and became respected members of their Maori communities.

It is the news media in all it’s forms that has let this situation develop where people can exaggerate and just plain lie about historical facts. Ngai Tahu have made extravagant claims over the years and generally their claims have been listened to to acted upon to the extent that they have had at least 6 claims. Little about their history of claims is in the public domain or has been publized. All political parties are equally guilty in this regard.


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