Search for Maori Autonomy

Māori Political, Social and Cultural Autonomy 

Before new settlers from Europe arrived in New Zealand, Māori of course enjoyed complete political, social and cultural autonomy. In reality, autonomy was located in independent iwi (or tribes) though in some parts of New Zealand, effective autonomy resided in the hapū (sub-tribe).

When Pākehā arrived, competition for land and resources began. So did competition for political autonomy.  The Treaty of Waitangi, when signed in 1840 was seen by Māori as a binding document enshrining power sharing between the tribes of the day (there were about 50) and Pākehā, who numbered about 2000 people.


It was not long before Māori realised that, according to the Crown, Māori had signed their sovereignty away. Māori of course did not see it this way, believing that they had retained full sovereign rights in their country. Thereafter, Māori attempts to recover their full autonomy became the dominant theme of our shared nineteenth century history.

Here a some of the main events around which the Māori search for autonomy can be seen;

1852:  Sec 71 of the Constitution Act, which made provision for independent land areas for Māori (but never enacted);

1858:  The Māori King movement was founded in order to assert Māori rights for sovereignty (and to protect land against sale);

1863:  Battle of Rangiriri where the Māori King and allies were defeated in battle and forced to retreat, ultimately going into refuge for a generation (click here Battle of Rangiriri for a brief account of the battle and its impacts on Māori);

1867:  Māori Representation Act granted four Special Seats to Māori in Parliament, though ultimately proving to be ineffective;images8AYF6BDF

1888:   Te Kohitanga formed b y Māori, as a Māori Parliament, asserting Māori political autonomy independent of the Crown;

1900:  Legislation passed granting Māori a semblance of independence over land alienations (Māori Lands Administration Act)

1900:  Te Kohitanga ceases to exist; and

1909:  revised Native Lands Act which (amongst other things) effectively dismantled the infrastructure of ‘autonomous’ committees set up in 1900 to manage land issues.