‘Indian Hating’ and Native History

‘Indian-Hating’ is a somewhat harsh term used by James Sandos and Larry Burgess in their amazing book The Hunt for Willie Boy (perhaps harsh for New Zealand ears ..)

Published in 1994, this terrific book tells the story of a manhunt in Southern California in September 1929. Written by two fine ‘white’ historians (as Pākehā are called in the USA), the book’s essential thesis – how ‘Indian-hating’ has uncritically permeated popular culture in the USA – certainly resonates in other communites elsewhere of which Native peoples are an integral part. And as we’ve recently seen, it’s a thesis that sadly also extends into African-American communities.

From the Museum for African American Peoples, Washington DC.

The Manhunt

The focus of the manhunt discussed in Willie Boy was a young Chemehuevi Indian named Willie Boy who, it was falsely alleged, had consumed too much liquor, stolen a rifle and kidnapped a 16 year old girl named Carlotta, shooting her father in the process. He then fled into the desert. When Carlotta was later found dead, the manhunt intensified, with increasing numbers of possees combing the desert.

The book is hugely interesting, written by two accomplished academic historians from Redlands, California, where the book’s action is set – James A Sandos and Larry E Burgess. Sandos and Burgess examine the various ‘white’ versions of the story.

Banning, South California, where the hunt for Willie Boy took place.

The book also includes a Chemehuevi version of events, strengthened with a careful reading of the documentary sources. This ethnohistorical approach is masterful, revealing a sad and tragic story, recovered from the layers upon layers of false and misleading ‘white’ versions (‘white’ is used in the USA for Pākehā).

Their research was extensive, and included working with elders from the Chemehuevi tribe, plus members of Willie Boy’s and Carlotta’s families, based around Banning and the Morongo Indian Reservation, in the desolate American south-west desert.

The Movie

This tragic tale was made into a movie by Abraham Polonsky called Tell Them Willie Boy is Here in 1969. The movie starred Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, Susan Clark and Robert Blake as Willie Boy. Polonsky had earlier been blacklisted by Hollywood as a communist sympathiser.

The screenplay was based on an earlier ‘gripping non-fiction novel’ published by Henry Lawton in 1960. However, as the authors point out, the Willie Boy story had been published some 30 times in various forms by the time the movie was made; and both the movie, and Lawton’s book, possessed serious flaws.

New Indian History / Ethnohistory / New Western History .. ?

When the book was published, in 1994, histories of Native American peoples were undergoing some critical analysis, especially those written over time by ‘whites’.

Historians like Patricia Limerick and Richard White were re-examining the writing of Native history, insisting that, for starters,  Native peoples ought to be both central to the story, and involved in the research and writing.

Santos and Burgess analyse the narrative and writing of the Willie Boy story against the complex historiographical background, including the work of New Indian historians. They also comment on historians positioned within the (then) emerging field of American Ethnohistory, like Fred Hoxie.

What is interesting is these debates in the USA found their way to New Zealand, and did influence how some Māori at the time went about writing our own Māori/tribal histories. Our impression, then, thō, was that the Native American voice wasn’t really coming thrū, unlike in New Zealand where Māori voices were being heard, and acknowledged by academic historians.

Native Historians Write Back, edited by Susan A Millar and James Riding In (2011).

Native Historians Write Back

In light of this, one of the best books recently published by Native American historians is undoubtedly Native Historians Write Back. Decolonising American Indian History , edited by acclaimed Native American historians, Susan A Miller and James Riding in, published in 2011.

Susan A Miller, Native American historian

This book is hugely important; it examines from varying native and tribal perspectives the writing of Native American history. When discussing indigenous historical paradigms, Susan actually discusses briefly some of the work then being done by Māori historians in New Zealand. Her comments in part arise from a panel discussion that Susan and Danny did together (with Donna L Ackers) at an Ethnohistory conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2009.

Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tahuhu Korero, edited by Danny Keenan, published by Huia Publishers, Wellington NZ in 2012.

Native Historians Write Back is undoubtedly a landmark publication. In New Zealand, Māori were able to attempt something similar with our Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tahuhu Korero, published the following year in 2012.

Native Historians Write Back is a particularly interesting book when we consider The Hunt for Willie Boy. Published some 15 years earlier, The Hunt for Willie Boy raises important issues about the writing of Native American history, issues that fine Native American historians like Susan were able to address (and much more).

Comparing Native Histories

Comparing Native histories comes with some challenges. For example, if you are a native person yourself, you will have a range a cultural contraints to observe, when writing about other native peoples. Equally, you should be aware of the same contraints that apply to those native peoples with whom you’re seeking to make comparisions. 

It’s very complex, but challenging. Danny discussed this issue when speaking to a seminar of staff and students at the University of Lincoln, in Nebraska USA in the late 1990s. You can read his paper here – Comparing Native Histories.

To read more on the work of native historians, click here – Native Historians.

Wars Without End

Revised and updated version of Wars Without End (2009) to be published by Penguin Books in late 2020 or early 2021 – watch this space.

Danny’s new book

A completely revised and undated version of Wars Without End (Penguin, 2009) will be published by Penquin books later this year, or early next year, covid-19 willing .. watch this space for details.

Coronavirus 2019

How terrible is the news that, in the USA, the third worst affected area, behind New York and New Jersey, is the Navaho Nation of South West USA.

Thinking of all our dear friends in the USA ..

Coronavirus – Saving our Planet

Wherever you are, we pray you will be safe in these troubled times. The French historian, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, once wrote of the ‘unification of the world by disease’. He was writing about the 14th to 17th centuries. But it sadly applies today, one world united by disease, with so much to save. We hope you all stay well.

Sesquicentenary 30 yrs on

During next year, 2020, we will commemorate many past events. One that might get overlooked is the Sesquicentenary of 1990 which of course was quite an event, at the time at least. New Zealanders were asked to reflect on what it meant to be a New Zealander, especially where relations with Māori were concerned.

Strangely enough, the Land Wars rated barely a mention; they certainly didn’t have the profile they have today, with so many new historians now joining the fray. But Treaty issues did remain front and centre of most activities, and there were many.

Prior to 1990, not everyone thought the sesquicentenary was a good idea. Some of the initial thoughts are summarised below. However, for a broader description of the sesquicentenary event itself, see here – Sesquicentenary 1990.

Notes from Georgetown

Whilst teaching a course on New Zealand history at Georgetown University in Washington DC in 2009, I was able to briefly introduce the topic of New Zealand’s sesquicentenary 1990 to an amazing group of 35 young American students.

Sesquicentenary was a good way into a much larger New Zealand history focus. These pages on Sesquicentenary 1990 comprise an expanded / updated version of my Georgetown teaching notes.

Commemorating histories

In 1940, New Zealand authorities had faced the question of how to commemorate a centennial of the country’s colonial founding. Perhaps splendid pageantry and an international fair was the answer, paying homage to the early pioneers and their founding struggles.

The Kotuku, or White Heron, symbol of Sesquicentenary Year 1990.

Fifty years later, in 1990, the nation’s Sesquentenary year arrived with the 1990 Commission asking similar questions of New Zealanders.

But times had drastically changed; the focus had shifted from pageantry and fairgrounds to peoples and historical/communal relationships. By 1990, Māori had made significant political gains. But community relations at large remained ambivalent.

Remembering New Zealand

1990 was therefore an important year for New Zealand because it provided for a nationwide ‘sounding’ vis-a-vis the country’s relations with Māori. In 1990, New Zealand celebrated 150 years of ‘nationhood.’ Commemorations were held throughout the country as New Zealanders looked inwards, reflecting upon their historical origins, their current identities and how they presented themselves to the rest of the world; and the processes of memory which linked them all.

In order to make these celebrations happen, the New Zealand government had two years earlier set up a 1990 Commission charged with fostering a full range of sesquentennial activities, based on local and nationwide celebrations of national remembrance.

Kyle Lockwood's 'black flag' which went up against our current flag on 2016 referendum - and sadly lost.

As the Commission’s original brief suggested, there were any number of good historical reasons for choosing 1990. Throughout the year, many hundreds of events were staged by communities, remembering past events thought to have left indelible marks upon the present.

By year’s end, the country had shown itself to possess intricate patterns of remembrance which had included focussing upon the small things as well as upon the ‘big themes’ of our collective memories.

The most important ‘big theme’ event to be remembered in 1990 was undoubtedly the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1840, 500 Maori chiefs had signed the Treaty in the far north at Waitangi, and at other locations around New Zealand, with representatives of the British Crown. Thus was established the legal basis upon which the formal colonisation of New Zealand could begin.

One of the many suggested replacement flags in 2015 for our current flag - and much an improvement.

The Treaty signing ceremony at Waitangi had heralded the beginning of a new enduring relationship between its signatories, Māori and the Crown; or at least, this was the reasonable expectation of both parties.

The years that followed however severely strained that expectation, especially for Māori, with a resonance that would reach far into the twentieth century.

Māori uncertainty

Some Māori now considered that 1990 celebrations would be divisive and unwise.  1990 was therefore promoted by the Commission as ‘Te Wero, the Challenge’. New Zealanders were exhorted to make 1990 ‘a year to remember, reflect and look ahead.’ The Commission’s logo featured the majestic kotuku, or the white heron ‘guiding New Zealand to a new horizon.’

The commemorations of 1990 presented New Zealanders with a chance to take stock of their historical relationships, especially with Maori and, in that context, what it now meant to be a New Zealander.

One of the many suggested replacement flags in 2015 for our current flag - and much an improvement.

As many commentators were observing as 1990 approached, more and more New Zealanders seemed to be focussing on the ‘perennial question of who and what a New Zealander was.’

The same issue had perplexed Pakeha after the 1870s, with the Land Wars over and an age of literary nationalism about to break over the country, a literature that searched for Pakeha roots amongst Aotearoa’s organic undergrowth.  

Parihaka and the historians

The essay below, which assesses some of the recent literature on Parihaka, was included in the original draft of the book Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka (Huia, 2015). However, at the request of the publisher, the first draft was substantially reduced to about 100,000 words; and, as a consequence, the literature review was removed. Below is a summary of that literature review.

In 1993, a seminar series ‘open to the students and the teachers of the world’ was held at Parihaka, sponsored by Te Whānau O Te Niho O Te Ātiawa of Parihaka.   

the seminars

The Parihaka series was organised by kuia like Mahinekura Rheinfeld and Parekaitu Tito with kaumātua Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka assisting. They were aimed at ‘nurturing identity and bridging cultures’. Inspiration to do this came from Waitangi Tribunal hearings at Parihaka which had commenced a year earlier, in October 1992.

Te Niho o Te Ātiawa, originally the wharekai (dining house) of Te Whiti O Rongomai.

The hearings, said the Parihaka elders, had ‘stirred within us the spirit of our tūpuna’ to acknowledge and revisit the past with new eyes in order to ‘commemorate the example set us by our kuia and kaumātua’.

Speakers included Dr Kathie Irwin, Dr Paora Tapsell, Prof Mason Durie, Patricia Grace, Elizabeth Kerekere, Dr Ailsa Smith and Dr Manuka Henare.

  The first seminar in the series was presented by Dr. Hazel Riseborough, then Senior Lecturer in History at Massey University, Palmerston North, and author of ‘Days of Darkness. The Government and Parihaka 1878-1888’. Hazel was also assisting North Taranaki iwi with historical research, thereafter presenting a series of prodigious historical reports to the Waitangi Tribunal as an expert witness.

Dr Hazel Riseborough

Hazels’ presentation asessed some of the recent historical literature relating to Parihaka. In her paper, she argued that the history of Parihaka had not been dealt with adequately by early historians who had seemed influenced by nineteenth-century views of Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi as ‘superstitious’, ‘far gone in sanity’ and ‘fanatics’.

Views such as these, she argued, were stated often by Ministers and officials like Harry Atkinson, John Bryce, John Sheehan, Robert Parris and Charles Brown, thereafter resonating through uncritical Pākehā communities and political circles. Te Whiti and Tohu were also referred to as ‘prophets’ but the term was ‘not meant to be complimentary; in fact, it had a very negative connotation’.

More positive views

Some positive views, though rare, were heard, however. One such view came from an Italian Benedictine priest, Domenico Vaggioli who had written of Te Whiti O Rongomai as being ‘without peer in the annals of Māori’.  Vaggioli’s source for this positive view was the embattled historian, G.W. Rusden. In 1883, Rusden had published a book entitled ‘History of New Zealand’ (used by Vaggioli) in which Rusden had made allegations about Native Minister John Bryce’s conduct whilst earlier serving in South Taranaki as a volunteer cavalryman in the late 1860s.  

The grave of Te Whiti O Rongomai at Parihaka.

Much later, in 1881, Native Minister Bryce had led the invasion of Parihaka, an event which had incensed Rusden, leading to the allegations made in his History of New Zealand. The allegations involved the killing of a number of Māori boys by persuing mounted troopers.

In 1883, Bryce refuted Rusden’s allegations which he called defamatory. A Court in London agreed. Rusden’s book was withdrawn from sale with a substantial fine imposed. As a consequence of the defamation action, said Riseborough, positive histories about Māori and Parihaka, like that written by Rusden (and Vaggioli) were easily discounted. After the defamation action, says Hazel, Bryce’s reputation was restored as the saviour of settlers through his otherwise egregious actions at Parihaka.  

Over time, however, opinions changed. Later historians like W.P. Reeves, Alfred Saunders, R.M. Burdon, James Cowan and William Baucke were positive towards Te Whiti and Tohu, instead focusing on iniquitious  government policies which had led to the Māori land dispossessions in Taranaki. Cowan and Baucke in particular, both of whom spoke fluent Māori, had spent time with Te Whiti O Rongomai at Parihaka. But other notable historians like J.C. Beaglehole, J.B. Condliffe, W.T.G Airey and W.P. Morrell had remained ambivalent at best and dismissive at worst.

The bridge over the Waiongoro River, just north of Hawera, on the coast road. Permission given to surveyors to cross this river in 1879 led to the Parihaka invasion of 1881.

After the Second World War, in the 1950s, historians continued to be generally sympathetic to Te Whiti O Rongomai and Parihaka, showing an increased willingness to criticise government policies of the 1870s and 1880s.

Dick Scott’s Parihaka Story, published in 1954, and his later expanded version Ask That Mountain, published in 1975, were fine examples of this. Scott had received assistance from Parihaka kaumātua like Whatarau Wharehoka and George Koea Snr, with Mohi Wharepouri, Rev. Paahi Moke, Mira Ngaia and Dr. E.P. Ellison also assisting. Scott’s two books were ground-breaking, not least because of this support received from such esteemed oral informants.

Later writings

Lauren standing beneath the old Stockade, Pungarehu, where Te Whiti O Rongomai, Tohu Kakahi and Titokowaru were held.

These generally positive treatments continued through to the 1990s, although in the 1970s some New Zealand historians sought to challenge these trends. Influenced by recent Pacific historiography which criticised depictions of Island peoples as ‘helpless savages’, swept along by the ‘fatal impacts’ of negative European contacts, some historians saw similar trends emerging in New Zealand.

In 1978, S.J. Bryant proposed a ‘reassessment’ of Te Whiti O Rongomai’s political activity. Bryant conceded that earlier historians, from the time of John Bryce, had been highly critical of Te Whiti, representing his dealings with the Crown as severely flawed. Later historians like Burdon, Cowan and Baucke had been more sympathetic.

But now, since the days of Dick Scott, historians ‘could find no wrong’. ‘The zeal to correct the older version had led to an over-exaggeration in the other direction’. Dick Scott’s ‘Ask That Mountain’, said Bryant, was virtually ‘without criticism (of Te Whiti) in its 205 pages’. Condemnation was instead reserved for an egregious, unreasonable and aggressive (and possibly overdrawn) government.

The Māori land confiscations. Enabled by legislation enacted in 1863, the confiscations egregiously affected Māori deemed to be 'rebels' from Taranaki, Waikato, Tauranga and Whakatohea.

 Bryant then set about ‘setting the record straight’, producing a detailed (Pākehā) ‘reassessment’. But he ran into trouble at the very beginning.

His ‘reassessment’ focused almost entirely on Te Whiti’s ‘failure’ to properly adapt to European culture. Te Whiti’s many ‘imperfect adaptations’ contained the seeds of their own inadequacy, argued Bryant, when dealing with Pākehā. Such ‘failures’ had also led to serious shortcomings in Te Whiti O Rongomai’s relationship with the European state.

But as Te Whiti had made clear many times, he did not desire a ‘relationship’ with Pākehā culture, adequate or otherwise. Nor did he desire a ‘relationship’ with the European state. Quite the reverse; he wished for customary autonomy with Taranaki Māori culture and lands intact – or, as Te Whiti said many times to Pākehā who would listen (like Native Minister William Rolleston in 1881), he would not accept ‘half of his blanket’.

As Rolleston later reported, Te Whiti had refused to be part of any settlement ‘using the old metaphor of the blanket which, he said, belonged to him and could not be divided’.

Rejecting Pākehā interpretations  

Dr. Riseborough concluded her presentation to the whānau at Te Niho O Te Ātiawa by assessing the work of historians writing in the 1990s like Keith Sinclair and Judith Binney, both of whom had published recent criticisms of her book, Days of Darkness.

In her book, Hazel rejected the use of Pākehā interpreters as a means of understanding what Te Whiti and Tohu had said during their many speeches delivered at Parihaka.  This issue had given rise to the invasion; a Pākehā interpreter had accused Te Whiti of making seditious comments on  17 September 1881.  But all Pākehā interpretations, said Hazel, were unreliable because they missed entirely the subtlety, nuance, metaphor and shades of meaning intended by Māori orators. Such Pākehā interpretations, she said, could not be trusted.

Instead, Hazel deferred to the immense value of traditional Parihaka oral sources like waiata, haka, tauparapara, whakatauaki, whaikorero and, not least, poi expressional performance which James Cowan once described as ‘no mere amusement but a kind of musical hansard’. Hazel doubted that Pākehā scholars could get to the truth of what Te Whiti O Rongomai had ever said, at any time, without accessing the Parihaka oral records.

Te Rangi Kapua, the home of Tohu Kakahi at Parihaka.

But Sinclair, Binney and other historians described Hazel’s view as a ‘romantic assertion’, defending the use of Pākehā sources.   

The fact remained, said Hazel, that Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi had behaved in as ‘calm, restrained and responsible way as was possible’ in the face of what Ministers themselves conceded was ‘deliberate goading’. 

Now, a hundred or more years on, with the Waitangi Tribunal investigations underway, concluded Hazel, it was to be seen whether the descendants were ready to free Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi from the bonds with which past histories and historians, as well government political actions, had bound them.  

The writings of descendents  

The seminar series constituted a courageous beginning; the presentation of Parihaka and Taranaki ‘counter-narratives’ that might reframe New Zealand’s multiple histories.  

Today, descendants of Parihaka are continuing to reflect upon and write about the histories of Parihaka and the wider experiences of the Taranaki people. In so doing, they follow the inspiration of tūpuna like Te Kahui Kararehe, Te Whetu and, more recently Whatarau Wharehoka, Rangikotuku Rukuwai and Ngaraiti Rukuwai, who were all, amongst numerous others, faithful chroniclers of  the Parihaka story.

Rangikotuku Rukuwai, standing by the remaining foundations of Te Whiti's house, Parihaka.

In 1992, Ailsa Smith contributed an essay on the life of Tohu Kakahi to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and a year later published Songs and Stories of Taranaki from the Writings of Te Kahui Kararehe. In 2005, Tony Sole published his richly detailed tribal history Ngāti Ruanui.

Te Miringa Hohaia and Ruakere Hond have also published absorbing accounts of Parihaka histories sourced in traditional stories and tribal wananga. Others to have published Taranaki waiata, tauparapara, whakatauaki and karakia include Tonga Karena and Huirangi Waikerepuru.

In 2009, Rachel Buchanan published her PhD thesis which, presented as a personal journey, examined stories emanating from ‘Parihaka and memory’, as told through traditional cultural forms as well as conventional historical sources.

Hilary and John Mitchell have also written extensively of Taranaki from the perspective of whānau living in Te Tau Ihi, in the South Island.

Whānau of Parihaka march to Pungarehu Primary School on the occasion of its centenary in 1992.

Recent hikoi of Taranaki whānau to meet with Te Wai Pounamu whānau, and to visit the sites traversed by earlier Taranaki prisoners, have also been described in absorbing detail by Edward Ellison and Peter Moeahu.

Paora Joseph’s moving film, Tatarakihi; Children of Parihaka also depicted a hikoi of Parihaka children visiting the sites and prisons symbolising the travails of earlier generations, led by Mata Wharehoka, Ngapera Moeahu and Whero Bailey with Pauline and Len Robinson of the Parihaka whānau.

After the Shades of Evening

In the end, Hazel’s presentation at Parihaka was well received.

During breakfast the next morning, Hazel turned to Parihaka kaumātua Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka, who was sitting nearby, and asked if he would care to write a dedication for a monograph to be published, containing her lecture of the previous evening.

Te Ru agreed and asked for a pen and paper, being handed a pen and a tissue, as it turned out. After thinking for a minute, Te Ru commenced writing;

He Maru Ahiahi Kei Muri te Maru Awatea He Paki Arohirohi Kei Mua

After the shades of evening  comes the dusk of dawn, whilst before us lies the shimmering glory of a fair day.

Terror in our Midst

The shootings in Christchurch on Friday 15 March 2019 were shocking, of course. Our Muslim community has been rightly embraced as family, especially by Ngai Tahu rangatira and whānau of Te Waiponamu.

The 1st April issue of TIME magazine has an awesome cover, designed by Ruby Jones of Wellington. The TVNZ symbol used during news coverage suggested unity and inclusiveness, simply expressed.

French movie composer Georges Delarue, has composed this really nice piece of music, from the movie Un Homme Amoureux

Georges Delarue was a gifted composer of movie music who sadly passed away in 1992.

Tutu Te Puehu – NZ Wars

Tutu Te Puehu, New Perspectives on the New Zealand Wars, edited by John Crawford and Ian McGibbon, published by Steele Roberts Publishers, Wellington, October 2018.  A new book on the New Zealand Wars has been released –  Tutu Te Peuhu, New Perspectives on the New Zealand Wars. This new book was launched at Parliament in Wellington on 23 October 2018. On hand to do the honours were Hon Ron Mark, Minister of Defence, and Hon Nania Mahuta, Minister of Maori Development.

The book is edited by noted and prodigious military historians Dr Ian McGibbon and Dr John Crawford. Ian and John have edited earlier volumes looking at New Zealand engaged in wars abroad, including Vietnam and the Great War (see right).

The 524- page book is well illustrated and contains 22 chapters written by a wide range of authors and scholars, all well known in the field of New Zealand Wars studies and research.

These authors include noted historians Monty Soutar, Carl Bradley, Ron Crosby and Kristyn Harman.

Moutua Gardens, Whanganui - memorial to Maori who died in the wars of the 1860s, especially at Moutua Island.Tutu Te Puehe is published by Steele Roberts, noted New Zealand publishers based in Wellington. The book is awesome and is a credit to John and Ian, to Steele Roberts Publishers, and to the many contributing writers.

For further details ( and to order a copy), click here – Tutu Te Puehe.

Māori Affairs and Reform

Koro Tainui Wetere (1935-2018)The sad passing of Koro Wetere on 23 June 2018 marked quite a milestone for Māori politics, and Māori history.

As a Minister in the reforming Fourth Labour Government, Wetere had his hands on significant pieces of legislation, not least that affecting the Waitangi Tribunal. But the viability of Māori futures, independent of the Crown, was also in his sights.

It was all a long way from the relaxed, rural environs of Oparue where he was born and raised after 1935. Following stints at Te Kuiti College and Massey University, Wetere was appointed to a Ratana Ministry, serving his Ngāti Maniapoto kin of the King Country. And there he might have happily remained, but for the Labour Party, long-time political partner of Ratana, which soon came knocking.

Wetere was recruited to the Party in 1957 and eventually won the seat of Western Māori in 1969, assuming the mantle of illustrious forbears like Wiremu Te Wheoro (1879-1884) and Hoanui Taipua (1886-1893), glittering names in the pantheon of Māori politics.

To most observers, Koro Wetere was an unlikely reformer; he was certainly staunch and steeped in tradition, but he was also self-effacing and somewhat reclusive by nature. Māori Members of Parliament in the 1970s - Koro Wetere (Western Māori), Matiu Rata (Northern Māori), Whetu Tirakatene-Sullivan (Southern Māori) and Parone Reweti (Eastern Māori).Working alongside Matiu Rata, a true reformer, changed all this. It was Rata, as Northern Māori MP, who pushed Norman Kirk’s Third Labour Government hard for change in how things were done for Māori. Rata’s most significant achievement was the Waitangi Tribunal, set up in 1975. But he also gave vioce to Māori calls for political autonomy,  an aspiration held since the early 1890s.

When Labour lost power in 1975, the mantle of reform passed to Wetere, especially once a disillusioned Rata walked away from Labour in 1979, to establish his own ill-fated Mana Motuhake Party.

Koro Wetere seized the mantle with both hands. His big chance came with the election of David Lange’s Fourth Labour Government in 1984. By then, Māori had long wearied of Crown paternalism, and they were saying so. A Māori Economic Summit of 1984, convened to address Maoridom’s slide into an economic and social abyss, called for greater power, resources and autonomy.

This time, the government was listening. But Māori communal structures were weak, or nonexistent. Grass-roots reform was urgently needed, if State resources were to flow to Māori. The Department of Māori Affairs was also in the firing line – Wetere wanted this behemoth abolished, with its powers devolved to Māori. The Department’s funding could be redirected to Māori as soon as iwi structures were reformed, credible social and economic programmes were established, and Māori themselves were sufficiently upskilled to manage this new, daunting opportunity.

It was a heady time of urgent and fast-paced reform, all masterfully managed by Koro Wetere as Minister of Māori Affairs.

The Tangi Of Koro Wetere, Ngaruawahia, July 2018.One consultation exercise, to promote the He Tirohanga Rangapu reform policy undertaken in 1988, was the largest sounding of Māori opinion ever undertaken. Wetere and his team of officials blitzed the country. Marae after marae responded positively to Wetere’s resolute performance at powhiri, whaikorero, wananga and hui, his booming te reo resonating off every pou and whare. Those officials along for the ride were witness to quite a history in the making.

In the midst of this reforming zeal, the government agreed to extend the Waitangi Tribunal’s powers of enquiry back to 1840, placing all of New Zealand’s history under judicial review. It was a significant move but should be seen as part Wetere’s passionate drive to devolve more power and resources to Māori.

In the end, Wetere had his way. Māori Affairs was abolished in 1989. New legislation provided for reformed iwi structures to be established so that devolved programmes and monies could be handled properly. Maori communal structures underwent change the like of which had not been seen before, all overseen by a determined Minister of Māori Affairs, Koro Wetere.

When the Fourth Labour Government lost office in 1990, Wetere returned to the Opposition benches, and retired six years late, leaving behind a signififcant legacy of reform that has lasted, and sets the tenor for today. Though still active as advisor and confidant to the Māori Queen, Koro Tainui Wetere largely withdrew from sight, still a humble and engaging man, one further glittering name  in the pantheon of Māori politics.

During the Wetere reform era, Danny Keenan (the writer of this website) was one of the Māori Affairs officials accompanying Wetere as he travelled the country, consulting with  Māori, promoting his ambitious reform agenda.   Danny has written a chapter in a book on social policy about this era of reform : click here to read it : The Treaty is Always Speaking?

The Past from the Paepae

"The Past from the Paepae' - a description of Māori oral history published by Danny in

The paepae is the place on the marae where elders stand to deliver their speeches and, as it so happens, to present their versions of history. The paepae can be said to be the controlling site of all Māori knowledge, including knowledge of the past. Speeches are an oral process of course, delivered before a discriminating audience. How then do kaumātua bring to mind such knowledge / histories when delivering oratory from the paepae? 


During the 1990s, the compiling and writing of oral histories became a particular interest of Māori who were then setting out as ‘historians’, whether as Māori historians or tribal historians.

The distinction wasn’t important to Māori, since methods and processes were largely the same for both groups.

However, a small group of Māori historians working within mainstream universities, and disciplines, did emerge. This gave rise to a small but interesting literature, written by Māori, focussing on what exactly oral history was to Māori – its methods, processes, protocols and value.

Oakura Marae, Oakura, just south of New Plymouth.

Some attempt was also made, at this time, to locate those observations within a much broader mainstream literature dealing with oral history.

Holly Thomas (Ngāti Te Whiti, Te Ātiawa), of Arrowntown, daughter of our website photographer, Bryn Thomas and Philippa.

In 2005, Danny published an article on Māori oral history, where he essentially argued that the form and frameworks of oral history for Māori took their cue from the paepae.

That is, from the place where elders stood, when delivering important speeches, especially to visitors coming onto the marae (the marae of course being the temporal, living embodiment of all Māori knowledge, including knowledge 0f the past, or history) .

Plse click here – The Past from the Paepae – if you’d like to read the article. The reference is – Danny Keenan, ‘The Past from the Paepae. The Uses of the Past in Māori History’ in Māori Oral History: A Collection, (eds) Rachel Selby and Alison Laurie, Oral History Association of New Zealand, Wellington, pp. 54-61.