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March 19, 2012 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

A History of Evil

In 2007, the group known as the ‘Tuhoe Four’, were arrested and accused of terrorism. Now, they are still on trial for militant antics. But were they, as so many seem to believe, acting with evil intent? They are part of a grass-roots movement for an independent Te Urewera region. Faced with the question, what is evil, my first impulse is to ask, why would we call that evil? This topic leads one to examine the ugly past and present mess of Maori and non-Maori relations, raising questions of, if evil things happened, how do we make everyone happy now? And, who is to blame, the groups of brutally rebellious Maori or the land-hungry non-Maori?

In this particular case, the Tuhoe Four belong to a group that resisted Pakeha settlement and did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi. Tuhoe suffered the ravages of famine, assimilation and, arguably, genocide, but it is questions of land ownership that are most concerning. The period from 1865, the founding of the ‘Native Land Courts’, till 1929, when the Crown stopped its large-scale purchases, that’s the period of big evils. Why, you may ask, did we need different, ‘native’ specific laws and courts in olden days? I wonder, what would Dr Brash and his successors in the now-governing party say of their ‘one law for all’ slogans if they faced up to the history, which clearly shows that there was, and still can be, one legal reality for the majority and a second, more daunting legal reality for Tuhoe, Maori and others who weren’t and still aren’t onside with the powerful?

You have to ask of the Tuhoe of those times, when their land wasn’t being stolen for no good reason, why would they still sell so much other stuff willingly and complain about it later?

Another common point is that Tuhoe would not have developed those lands and resources to as great an extent as Pakeha. But, this argument ignores the crucial, additional fact that the legal and commercial systems were skewed to such a degree that to survive as ‘a Maori’ you had no choice but to sell your land and then subsist on the fringes of national life. Professor Richard Boast, of our own faculty of law here at Vic, has given conclusive evidence that “virtually the main function of the Native Department was to purchase Maori land”, and that “locked into complex legal structures which prevented them from turning their assets into capital and thus increasing their value, many Maori took the only realistic option available, and sold.”

A simple example of this evil was the kind of situation when a white settler had his eye on (or one foot in) good but under-utilised Tuhoe land and would then take a group or an individual to the special courts, disputing the ownership. Merely the cost of turning up in town, far from their homes, and then having to defend their case to an alien system, could bankrupt entire iwis and force them to sell the land they wanted to defend—just so they’d be able to eat. Does this not sound just a little bit like a situation similar to the overkill of the Te Urewera police raids and the special charges that were brought against the Tuhoe Four and their associates?

New Zealand’s evil mess of a history, with Tama Iti’s Tuhoe and other Maori being steamrolled by blinkered idealism in politics, assimilation in education and self-interested buying in court and market, is described by Boast as “a tsunami of Crown purchasing crashing over a people who were in very difficult circumstances.”

The evidence of investigators like Boast, Richard Hill, Claudia Orange and James Belich suggests that a full acknowledgement of past and ongoing systematic and individual miscommunication, ignorance, bigotry and imposition must be made by all parties before real progress can be begun on such issues. In other words, before you accuse someone of being a
‘terrorist’, you might want to ask, first and foremost, why they would be led to that path? What is the origin of the issue?
The persistent dismissal of what some might call ‘the root of evil’ in this case is, to this day, injuring all parties involved,
non-Maori and Maori alike. And it is this dismissive viewpoint that is to the detriment of any progress towards the
actual possibility of being partners in one New Zealand. ▲


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