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  • Writer's pictureMark Revington

The Story of Māori Land Loss

How much land was taken from Māori? Well, between 1840 and the start of World War Two in 1939, almost 73 percent of Te Ika a Māui and almost the whole of Te Waipounamu were taken from Māori through confiscation and dodgy land deals. Or to put it another way, in 1840 Māori held all land; by 2017 Māori owned five percent of Aotearoa. Research shows that whenua is critical to wairua and hauora but common sense would tell you that.

An old hand drawn map detailing the area of Te Waipounamu that was sold as part of Kemp's Deed.
The area covered by Kemp's Deed. Credit: Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Despite signing Te Tiriti in 1840, the Crown was under enormous pressure to facilitate aggressive land grabs, from people who had sailed halfway around the world expecting to settle here.

According to Te Ara, which is a great resource online, Māori still held onto the whenua in 1860. “The 1860s saw confiscations of huge areas by the government and large areas of land began to be lost through the Native Land Court. The period between 1890 and 1920 saw a boom in government land purchases, despite Māori protests.”

Te Ara has a series of maps of Te Ika a Māui which graphically show the extent of land loss and it is scary. A map of Te Waipounamu shows that Ngāi Tahu sold pretty much the whole motu to Pakeha between 1844 and 1860 but as Harry Evison and others established, the Crown did not honour its promise to set aside 10 percent as reserves and to establish schools and hospitals. In other words, the contracts were null and void and the Crown had no intention of sticking to them.

First it was whales and seals, then whenua. When I did a history paper through the University of Canterbury, we were taught that Pākehā settlers, who were here in low numbers before Te Tiriti, wanted to own and farm their own land which was at odds with the Māori approach. They had totally different ideas of what whenua could provide.

Added to this was the idea of the Crown as land speculator. Te Tiriti, signed in 1840, was supposed to mean that only the Crown could purchase land from Māori. In reality, the Crown couldn’t be trusted. Te Tiriti was supposed to be a partnership, but the Crown always had the upper hand and there are numerous recorded breaches. Although only the Crown could buy whenua from Māori, much of this whenua was sold, granted or leased to settlers. The end result was the same, hence Te Ara’s graphically shocking maps.

Dr Moana Jackson reckoned ministers in effect became mortgage brokers and rewarded settlers for taking part in wars against Māori or gave them cheap loans and called it the beginning of the colonial economy.

Why revisit this when some of the populace are only too aware of it and others prefer to stay ignorant? These facts are out there (the Greens launched Hoki Whenua Mai ) but I reckon a shocking proportion of the population prefers to ignore the fact that modern Aotearoa was partly built on deception and greed. Then there are those who say humanity has always been this way and we can’t turn the clock back. Thankfully society seems be changing. Slowly.

Nā Mark Revington


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