Don't blame Tuhoe for underdevelopment
David Garrett’s opinion piece on Tuhoe independence in today's New Zealand Herald typifies the Pakeha ignorance of history which is one of the main causes of racial tension in this country today.
Garrett’s article can be compared to the warnings against Samoan and Cook Island independence that often appeared in papers like the Herald half a century ago. When Cook Islanders and Samoans protested for independence, patronising editorialists and outraged letter-writers would talk of isolation and underdevelopment, and claim that there was no practical alternative to rule from Wellington. Many of the problems of both the Cook Islanders and Samoans had been caused by the racism and self-interest of their ‘guardians’ in Wellington, but that did not stop Pakeha commentators warning that independence would mean disaster.
In much the same way, Garrett believes that an independent Tuhoe state would be incompatible with the modern world. He thinks that Tame Iti and other advocates of Tuhoe independence are naïve romantics, who don’t realise that they only enjoy ‘all the trappings of modern society’ because they were colonised by Pakeha New Zealanders. Many Pakeha Kiwis share Garrett’s views about the tino rangatiratanga movement which seeks greater autonomy for Maori. They think that activists like Tame Iti are childish romantics, who want to return to the Stone Age.
The reality is very different. For one hundred and forty years, Tuhoe have sought autonomy from the New Zealand because the New Zealand state has repeatedly failed to let them develop their resources and make a better standard of living for their people. The Pakeha state has consistently acted as a break on Tuhoe aspirations. The New Zealand state is largely responsible for the underdevelopment, poverty and isolation which Tuhoe suffer from today.
Each of the examples that Garrett uses to try to advance his argument shows his ignorance of this fundamental fact of Tuhoe history.
Garrett claims that a Tuhoe nation would be landlocked, and therefore isolated from the rest of the world. Does he not know that Tuhoe have lived along the central Bay of Plenty coast for many hundreds of years? During the 1860s, the Crown unjustly confiscated vast tracts of this land, and in doing so robbed Tuhoe of much of their economic base. As a result, many of the Tuhoe who live on the lowlands between Whakatane and Opotiki have had to earn a living as casual labourers on Pakeha-owned farms. Today Tuhoe activists seek recompense for the confiscation of their coastal land so that they can rebuild their economy in the coastal part of their rohe.
Garrett warns that, if Tuhoe achieve independence, roads in their rohe will fall into disrepair, and travel on horseback will become ‘a necessity rather than a pleasant novelty’. If Garrett had ever visited Tuhoe Country he would know that travel on horseback is already a necessity in many places, because the New Zealand state has failed utterly to create, let alone maintain, a decent system of roads for the local people. One of the biggest reasons for the underdevelopment of the Tuhoe economy is the refusal of successive generations of Pakeha politicians to build the roads that were needed to transport agricultural produce to markets and bring machinery and building materials into isolated settlements.
The famous Tuhoe leader Rua Kenana spent much of his life in a vain struggle to persuade governments to build roads into the Urewera heartland, where his followers were establishing farms. Even when Rua and his followers donated land for roading and offered to supply free labour for the project they were still often disappointed. Today, the historic Tuhoe settlement under the sacred mountain of Maungapohatu still lacks a proper road connection to the outside world.
Maungapohatu was violently raided in 1916, because the Crown was becoming concerned by the success that Kenana and his followers were having in developing an independent economic base for Tuhoe. Historian Judith Binney has shown how successive governments systematically underfunded Maungapohatu, so that the community went into decline, and eventually completely lost its school and other public services.
Garrett mocks Tuhoe for not developing their Urewera hinterland when he claims they have little except ‘root crops’ to trade with the outside world. He seems to think that Tuhoe backwardness is responsible for the fact that so much of their territory is still covered in bush. But the underdevelopment of inland parts of Tuhoe Country has been caused by the Crown. By the early twentieth century, confiscations and dubious land purchases had created swathes of alienated land deep in the Ureweras, and fragmented Tuhoe holdings. Modern agriculture was difficult in the Tuhoe enclaves, but with the help of Apirana Ngata’s land consolidation and development schemes thriving dairy farms and factories were established at Ruatoki and Waimana. Further development was frustrated, though, by the creation of the huge Urewera National Park on land that Tuhoe claimed as their own. Even on land they still owned, Tuhoe were prohibited from felling trees and opening new areas for farming. They were never compensated for the economic potential they lost to parkland.
When he remarks that ‘Tuhoe are very keen on firearms’ and accuses them of plotting terrorism, Garrett seems to be echoing the argument of certain talk show hosts that Tuhoe are a benighted tribe who will quickly turn to violence if they are allowed autonomy from the New Zealand state and police force. But Tame Iti’s use of the New Zealand flag for short-range target practice a couple of years ago pales into insignificance in comparison with the repeated invasions of Tuhoe country by the Crown in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1869, when Colonel Whitmore brought British justice at the point of a gun, dozens of villages were burned and kumara plots were pulled up wherever they were found, ensuring that many Tuhoe would starve during the coming winter. One of Whitmore’s soldiers remembered hearing the ‘melancholy wailing’ of hungry Tuhoe women and children drifting down from the bush-clad mountains, where they had fled to escape the invaders.
Raiders like Whitmore set the pattern for relations between Tuhoe and the New Zealand state. There is an unbroken thread that runs from the first brutal invasions of the 1860s, through repeated land grabs and the systematic underfunding of Tuhoe communities, to the raid on Ruatoki North two weeks ago. The poverty and isolation that many inhabitants of Tuhoe Country suffer today has been caused by one hundred and forty years of Crown policy, not the failings of Tuhoe. Is it any wonder that many Tuhoe now favour autonomy or complete independence from such a state?
Neither autonomy nor outright independence is a miracle cure for the problems of Tuhoe. There are many questions about what form tino rangatiratanga should take, and many perspectives on the best way to use the resources which Tuhoe seek to regain from the Crown. But the right of the iwi to exercise mana whenua over its own rohe and resources should be supported by Pakeha. Tuhoe can hardly do worse than the governments we have elected.