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Attempts To Turn Maori Into Brown Britons - Book

History Of British Attempts To Turn Maori Into Brown Britons Launched Today

Eight years of gathering oral histories from pupils and teachers of New Zealand’s remarkable Native Schools system, and researching the official records, has resulted in a new book, "A Civilising Mission?", hailed by Professor Jamie Belich an “exemplary work of post-colonial New Zealand scholarship.”

"A Civilising Mission?" tells the story of the British attempts to turn Maori into Brown Britons, particularly through the nearly 100 years of the New Zealand Native Schools system, from the point of view of both Maori and Pakeha; pupils and teachers.

It will be presented back to the people this evening when it is launched at Waipapa Marae, University of Auckland. A number of past pupils and teachers of the Native Schools will be attending the celebration.

Among the speakers will be launcher Merimeri Penfold, editors Dr Judith Simon and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Professor Jamie Belich, who says in his foreword to the book:

"From the establishment of the first mission station in New Zealand in 1814 until the 1960s, the main official policy of Pakeha towards Maori was to convert them into Brown Britons. Conversion was cheaper than conquest, but a humanitarian motive should also be acknowledged. To people who could conceive of no higher state than Britishness, making it available to “natives” seemed an act of enlightened generosity. For their part, Maori were always eager to engage with European things and thoughts, but in their own way, for their own ends, and at their own pace. After physical struggle ended in the 1860s, this cultural struggle, for and against assimilation, took centre stage at the interface between Maori and Pakeha. The agencies of conversion included European modes of capitalism, and Christianity, law and land alienation. From 1816, when the first mission school was established, they also included education.

"At first, the missionaries taught Maori about Europe and the Bible in the Maori language. They aimed to Europeanise, Christianise and “civilise” Maori, but not necessarily to assimilate them into settler society. In 1847, the state began to encourage the use of English and, when the mission schooling system collapsed in the 1860s, replaced it with a state system of “Native Schools”. The system lasted from 1867 to 1969, and peaked in the 1950s at 166 schools and 13,600 pupils. The present book, A Civilising Mission?, is the most sophisticated and insightful study of this remarkable, contested, and trans-cultural schooling system yet to emerge.

"The official purpose of the system was to assimilate Maori, notably through the almost exclusive use of English as the medium of instruction. Especially in the 1930s and 1940s, pupils in some schools were physically punished for speaking Maori, even in the playground. It is this bitter memory which has made the Native Schools a symbol of a harsh, longstanding, and many-faceted Pakeha assault on Maori culture. The assault did exist and Native Schools were a site of it. But the schools were also a site of Maori resistance and persistence and – unofficially – of a degree of intercultural accommodation.

"'A Civilising Mission?' engages honestly with the complexities of the subject, probes under them effectively, and crosses a number of boundaries while doing so. It is a bicultural and collective project, with three Maori authors and three Pakeha, yet speaks with a consistent and coherent analytical voice. It uses written sources, but also supplies a new dimension in the form of a mass of Maori and Pakeha oral evidence, reaching back to the 1920s. It is theoretically aware, yet speaks in plain language. It bestrides several disciplines, notably history, education, and Maori studies, without creaking at the joints."

The authors of "A Civilising Mission?" are largely educationists from the International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education (IRI) at the University of Auckland. They are Judith Simon and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (editors), Stuart McNaughton, Fiona Cram, Margie Hohepa and Maxine Stephenson. Most members of the team are also connected with the Native Schools in other ways – as past pupils, teachers or children of teachers. Their research was supported by the Marsden Fund.

The celebration/launch will commence at 4pm today in the Reipae Dining Room of at Waipapa Marae, 16 Wynyard Street, Auckland City.

--ENDS--

[Book foreword attached]

FOREWORD

From the establishment of the first mission station in New Zealand in 1814 until the 1960s, the main official policy of Päkehä towards Mäori was to convert them into Brown Britons. Conversion was cheaper than conquest, but a humanitarian motive should also be acknowledged. To people who could conceive of no higher state than Britishness, making it available to ‘natives’ seemed an act of enlightened generosity. For their part, Mäori were always eager to engage with European things and thoughts, but in their own way, for their own ends, and at their own pace. After physical struggle ended in the 1860s, this cultural struggle, for and against assimilation, took centre stage at the interface between Mäori and Päkehä. The agencies of conversion included European modes of capitalism, and Christianity, law and land alienation. From 1816, when the first mission school was established, they also included education.

At first, the missionaries taught Mäori about Europe and the Bible in the Mäori language. They aimed to Europeanise, Christianise and ‘civilise’ Mäori, but not necessarily to assimilate them into settler society. In 1847, the state began to encourage the use of English and, when the mission schooling system collapsed in the 1860s, replaced it with a state system of ‘Native Schools’. The system lasted from 1867 to 1969, and peaked in the 1950s at 166 schools and 13,600 pupils. The present book, A Civilising Mission?, is the most sophisticated and insightful study of this remarkable, contested, and trans-cultural schooling system yet to emerge.

The official purpose of the system was to assimilate Mäori, notably through the almost exclusive use of English as the medium of instruction. Especially in the 1930s and 1940s, pupils in some schools were physically punished for speaking Mäori, even in the playground. It is this bitter memory which has made the Native Schools a symbol of a harsh, longstanding, and many-faceted Päkehä assault on Maori culture. The assault did exist and Native Schools were a site of it. But the schools were also a site of Mäori resistance and persistence and – unofficially – of a degree of intercultural accommodation. A Civilising Mission? explores both sides of the story. Because the state insisted that Mäori communities meet part of the cost of the schools, most were established with Mäori consent. Indeed, Mäori were often as insistent as the state on instruction in English. Literacy in Mäori alone gave Pakeha a monopoly over what Mäori could read – it was Päkehä who translated books into Mäori and published them. Though Robinson Crusoe was translated in 1852 (what did its readers think of Man Friday?), books in Mäori were generally restricted to religious texts. As Mäori leaders such as Wiremu Tämihana knew full well, literacy in English gave their people independent access to global knowledge. In communities where Mäori was the language of everyday life outside school, education in the medium of English did not seem a threat to te reo. As late as 1930, 96.6 per cent of the Mäori pupils of Native Schools spoke mainly Mäori at home. Despite the bitter memories of being strapped for speaking your mother tongue, it was not the Native School system, but mass urbanisation after 1945, that brought the Mäori language to its knees in the 1970s.

While most Native School teachers proper were Pakeha, they included some Mäori from 1875, and assistant teachers were mainly Maori ― as in mainstream schools, they were bright teenage girls for the most part. Mäori communities participated actively in the running of many schools, and the most successful teachers were those who accommodated Mäori concerns. Mäori in Native Schools tended to do better educationally than those in mainstream schools. In 1967, when only about one in seven Mäori children attended the shrinking Native School system, it produced two out of three of Mäori university students. Native Schools did, however, share two problems with mainstream or Education Board schools. One was the official preference for practical (domestic, manual, agricultural and technical) education over academic education. Like schools for Päkehä workers, Native Schools were supposed to produce good farmers, labourers, and housewives, not an aspirant middle-class. Parents and teachers, Mäori and Päkehä, sometimes resisted and subverted this mission, just as Mäori did assimilation. The second shared problem was that the teaching materials supporting the curriculum focused on London and not Wellington, let alone the Urewera. As one of this book’s informants observes: ‘Maori kids learning about English squirrels and nightingales ― just meaningless’. A knowledge of squirrels and nightingales was not very useful for Päkehä kids either.

There are arguably signs that, by the 1960s, Maoriness was beginning to win the long contest between it and Britishness in the Native School system, renamed Mäori Schools in 1947. The proportion of Mäori teachers was increasing, as was the Mäori dimension of the curriculum. The system was terminated in 1969, only thirteen years before the struggle to create another Mäori education system, involving köhanga reo and kura kaupapa Mäori, began. Termination came during a spasm of intensifying state assimilationism in the 1960s, which also produced the Hunn Report and the ‘last land grab’. I myself suspect that it came not because the Mäori schools system was effectively assimilationist, but because its official assimilationist purpose had been successfully subverted.

The Native Schools were one of a number of separate Mäori institutions that contradicted the official policy of non-segregation. Mäori also had separate churches or sections of churches, a separate military unit and civil service, and separate land development schemes, sports organisations, and local bodies ― tribal councils, land boards, and trusts. This was not apartheid: Mäori had access to the mainstream equivalents, and the separate institutions existed because Mäori wanted them. Maori leaders such as James Carroll and Apirana Ngata went to enormous pains to set them up, and prise financial support out of reluctant governments. To my mind, the separate institutions were less agencies of assimilation than subversions of it. They were a set of storm sails under which Mäori culture and identity could survive the prevailing winds of socio-economic disadvantage and assimilationist rhetoric.

A Civilising Mission? engages honestly with the complexities of the subject, probes under them effectively, and crosses a number of boundaries while doing so. It is a bicultural and collective project, with three Mäori authors and three Pakeha, yet speaks with a consistent and coherent analytical voice. It uses written sources, but also supplies a new dimension in the form of a mass of Mäori and Päkehä oral evidence, reaching back to the 1920s. It is theoretically aware, yet speaks in plain language. It bestrides several disciplines, notably history, education, and Mäori studies, without creaking at the joints. In all, it is a privilege to introduce this exemplary work of post-colonial New Zealand scholarship.

James Belich

History Department

University of Auckland


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