Horoimia: Ta Apirana Ngata Memorial Lecture
Ta Apirana Ngata
Ta Apirana Ngata Memorial Lectures
Ngata Memorial College
Thursday 24th November 2005
Minister of Mâori Affairs
Associate Minister of State Services
Associate Minister of Education
Associate Minister of Fisheries
Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment
This weekend Tâ Âpirana will be noted and remembered for his many outstanding achievements, and visionary statements.
I would like to focus on Tâ Âpirana’s time that he spent during his parliamentary career, as I am entering into my seventh year as an MP. His tenure in Parliament was 38 years. This places him in the top five parliamentarians in terms of length of time in office, alongside Rex Mason, Sir Keith Holyoake, Sir Walter Nash, and Jonathan Hunt. When Tâ Âpirana left office he held the record at the time himself. He remains the longest serving Mâori MP.
In his early life Tâ Âpirana was greatly influenced by both Paratene Ngata and Ropata Wahawaha. Throughout his life he followed the policy of working alongside the Crown.
What stood him
in good stead were two things his upbringing as a Maori, as
a speaker of Maori, and pursuing Pâkehâ education. Both
Paratene and Ropata were insistent that Tâ Âpirana be
educated and learn the skills of the Pâkehâ so that his work
would be about benefiting Ngâti Porou and Maori as a
At the age of 5 he went to Waiomatatini Native School, and was 10 when he started at Te Aute College.
Under the guidance of headmaster John Thornton he was grounded in Classics and prepared for University and a professional life. Thornton encouraged pride in being Maori and encouraged him with a mission to make a difference with Maori people.
Tâ Âpirana’s leadership and involvement with Maori concerns commenced in his student days. From 1891-1892 he travelled the Tairawhiti with Reweti Kohere giving talks on health reform. It was almost unprecedented that such a young man – 18 years old – could assume a leadership role.
After eight years at Te Aute, he was awarded a Te Makarini Scholarship and he graduated from Canterbury with a BA in political science in 1893.
he completed his LLB. Tâ Âpirana was the first Mâori to
graduate from a New Zealand university and one of the very
first New Zealanders to hold both the BA and LLB degrees.
And he didn’t stop there; in 1921 he graduated with a MA.
Tâ Âpirana was then awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of
During this time Tâ Âpirana gradually began to take over from his father and Ropata Wahawaha in the leadership in land development and reform. He was also making his way in national affairs, particularly with his association with Sir James Carroll, a Liberal Party Minister of the Crown.
In 1900 he assisted in the drafting of the Maori Lands Administration Act and the Maori Councils Act, both important pieces of legislation that allowed Maori to have a greater say over their affairs. Tâ Âpirana was only 26 years old at this time.
In 1905, at the age of 31, he commenced his long political career when he was elected to Parliament representing the Eastern Mâori electorate as a Liberal MP.
Tâ Âpirana was loyal to the Liberals for 38 years. His electorate boundary was practically all of the eastern North Island. The boundary ran approximately just south of Tauranga inland towards Tokoroa, down to Lake Taupô and down east of Taihape and Palmerston North to the Rimutaka Range. So the rohe included all of mid/eastern Bay of Plenty, East Coast, and Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Urewera, Rotorua and the eastern side of Lake Taupô.
At the end of 1928, Tâ Âpirana was one of the most senior members of Cabinet. In fact he was ranked number three. It was the first time that a Maori electorate MP was elevated to Minister of Native Affairs. He also acted for the Deputy Prime Minister at times.
He was a great orator. A number of Tâ Âpirana’s pronouncements in the House give a real insight into his thinking on key issues, and give us pause for thought about our situation today: what has changed? What have we learnt? What direction should we take leading into the future?
On Mâori land grievances against the
Crown, Tâ Âpirana remarked in 1906, in the debate on the
South Island Landless Natives Bill, that Government actions
were threatening to leave Mâori in the North as landless as
those in the South. ‘Let us not’, he said, put the natives
of the North Island in the same position as those of the
South are in now – put them in the position of having to beg
Government after Government to right a wrong, and of blaming
Government after Government for having done a wrong.
Tâ Âpirana supported the Tohunga Suppression Bill in 1907. To some today that may seem like an un-Mâori thing to do. But he was concerned about the unsafe medical practices of those passing themselves off as traditional healers at a time of great sickness amongst our people. He was, he explained, opposed to a ‘bastardisation’ of the role of the tohunga, and he enlightened the House with an explanation of what ‘genuine tohungaism’ was like. He said:
The word ‘tohunga’ in old Mâori meant a man set apart – an expert. The tohunga was tapu. He was sacred. … He was not only chief of the clan, but he supplied its law and its government. ... This Bill does not purport to deal with that class of tohunga, for the sufficient reason that he no longer exists in New Zealand.
Tâ Âpirana knew what traditional Mâori culture was like. He knew that Mâori were vulnerable at a time of disease to false prophets, quacks and the failure to modernise ideas about sanitation and health. He was a thoroughly modern thinker, yet at the same time steeped in traditional knowledge and a commitment to upholding his culture.
Tâ Âpirana often reflected upon the issue of equality of citizenship for Mâori. Mâori wanted equality, he said, but not the selective ‘equality’ usually on offer. Mâori were expected to pay rates equally with the Pâkehâ, but did not receive the same financial assistance to develop their lands. They were expected to learn English in schools but barely allowed to speak their own tongue. They were subject to an array of laws that removed their land from them but were never given the chance first to learn the intricacies and language of business.
Ta Âpirana asked the House in 1910, in response to those who criticised what they saw as ‘special’ arrangements for Mâori, to reflect upon the complexities of what they were talking about. They called for Mâori to pay the same rates and succession duties, he said, but were silent on the issue of alcohol. Under the law publicans could not sell liquor in bulk to Mâori; Mâori women could not buy liquor unless fortunate enough to be married to a Pâkehâ man; and no liquor could be brought onto a Mâori kainga.
Tâ Âpirana thought these were good and necessary protections against the dangers of drink to Mâori – and asked his opponents in the House why they were not consistent and calling for the repeal of these measures as well.
Tâ Âpirana did not mean to disparage his people. He recognised that, as a colonised people, Mâori needed the active protection promised them under the Treaty. Thus, in the same speech, he said of the Mâori seats in Parliament that the law that created them in 1867 was part of England’s world-wide policy of making allowances under its law for the special status of indigenous people. Indigenous peoples would become subject to the same rules, he said, not by 'revolution' but by 'gradual evolution'.
Tâ Âpirana valued education highly, and embraced the best the Pâkehâ education system had to offer. However, he would not tolerate those opponents of his in Parliament who saw no value in the practical and traditional skills taught to each new generation of Polynesians. In 1920 he took issue in the House when the debate turned to what some members saw as the idleness and overly basic lifestyle of the Samoans. He said:
Is the learning of the English language the only education? Is knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and Euclid the only education? Do not these people possess the key to happiness? Do they not have poetry of their own? Do they not have traditions handed down to them from their forefathers quite sufficient for them, without having to worry their heads as to when Cicero was born, or whether Desmosthenes was a Britisher or a Greek? The honourable gentleman is speaking to one who knows something about the education of the Pâkehâ, and there is a good deal taught that is useless. Is the white man’s the only scheme of life?
Let me return to the issue of land development and
rates. This was Tâ Âpirana’s burning issue throughout his
parliamentary career. In 1907 he made an impassioned plea
in the debate on the Government Advances to Settlers Bill.
What do you expect us to do? You expect us to pay rates to local bodies … You expect us to pay full taxation on the same basis as the Europeans. With regard to all these things you demand that the Mâori be treated in exactly the same way as the European in regard to the responsibilities of citizenship as the settler. But as regards to the facilities afforded to the citizen and settler, what is the position of the Mâori? You might as well expect him to make bricks without straw as to pay rates when you make no provision to assist him to farm his land and improve it.
The same year he chaired a commission with the Chief Justice, Sir Robert Stout, that recommended that Mâori be given assistance to develop their lands. But his vision was lost sight of and much Mâori land continued to sit idle, covered with scrub and weeds.
At last, when Tâ Âpirana was elevated to the position of Native Minister in 1928, he had the opportunity to put his land development schemes into action. His philosophy was simple.
He believed that consolidating fragmented holdings, ushering in corporate management of the land, and investing heavily in development were the answers to the rapid alienation that had taken place. But he believed that the schemes were about more than making idle land productive. He saw them as reinvigorating Mâori communities, and thus land development took place alongside marae building and other community initiatives.
Tâ Âpirana's favoured form of land use on the schemes was dairying, because he saw its high labour-intensity – compared to sheep and beef farming – as meaning more whânau members could work together on the land. There were dairy co-operatives right up the East Coast.
also worked to set up Mâori farming co-ops – such as the
Waiapu Farmers Co-operative – because he wanted Mâori to run
their own farms, not Pâkehâ. He wrote that the imposed
Pâkehâ bureaucracy revealed 'the Pâkehâ attitude of
hesitation and distrust' towards Mâori running the
development scheme farms. 'I am having more trouble fitting
these Pâkehâ features into the machine', he wrote, 'than
hitching on Mâori folk to the new job'.
I want to move forward towards the end of Tâ Âpirana’s political career.
After he had ceased to be a Minister he was a leading speaker on the Petroleum Bill in 1937, which was to nationalise the oil resource hidden beneath the surface of our country. His response to the issue, against a backdrop of looming war, was pragmatic. He strongly voiced a concern for Mâori rights to at least a share of the royalties for oil discovered on their land, but conceded that oil was ‘vital to the defence of the Empire’.
The Minister of
Mines had, he said,appealed for the support of all the
public men in New Zealand, and has advanced reasons which
were advanced in the Old Country and in Australia for
facilities to be provided which might lead to the discovery
of this very essential commodity in the Empire. There are
reasons with which no one can quarrel.
Tâ Âpirana lost the argument about the royalties, but his arguments were constructive and his position one that already contained a fair willingness to compromise. What he advocated was a way ahead and the best deal that could be achieved for his people in the circumstances.
His fellow parliamentarians'
tributes upon his death in July 1950 – four months before I
was born – capture the essence of the impact and presence
that our rangatira had in the House of Parliament.
The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Syd Holland, said that ‘Ngata made the rules of the House and of debate the subject of special and intensive study and became a recognised master in this field’.
‘NZ has lost one of its greatest sons. The last of the greatest Mâori has passed from us’.
The Rt Hon Peter Fraser (Leader of the Opposition) said ‘There were two men who had unsurpassed knowledge of the Standing Orders of the House, Sir Âpirana Ngata and Sir William Herries. Ngata used that knowledge both to stop delaying the business of the House and to promote delays and very successfully too by all accounts’.
‘He had a wonderful blend of appreciation of European culture and British institutions, of which he was a devoted adherent and champion, and also regret at the lack of understanding on the part of Europeans of other cultures, the Mâori culture more immediately, for which he was a missionary’.
‘When we consider all the great leaders
of Mâori, we realise that probably no man more than Sir
Âpirana should be given credit of setting the Mâori people
on the way toward a higher future and a more assured
The Hon Ernest Corbett (Minister of Mâori Affairs) added that, ‘By the death of this man we have seen the passing of the last greatest Mâori in New Zealand. Some may think that this is an exaggeration, but I am sure that time will prove it a statement of fact.'
'I recollect he took me to task for saying that Mâori should enjoy equality with Pâkehâ. Ngata said, “I do not seek equality for my people, equality will mean that they will take in that equality many of the vices of the European, what I seek is approximation, with the Mâori preserving his own culture, preserving all that is best in him and benefiting from what is best in the European".'
I want to finish by asking some
questions for us today to consider that arise from Tâ
Âpirana's statements and visions.
Provoked by Tâ Âpirana's thoughts on the suppression of so-called tohunga, I wonder how we ensure we walk into the future equipped with all the modern tools we need but yet still anchored culturally in ngâ tikanga Mâori. What customs need to be modernised? Culture should not be left to remain static.
Tâ Âpirana spoke of a 'gradual evolution' by Maori to a state of 'equality'. Is this gradual evolution complete? We hear comments and criticisms from those who say that Mâori enjoy special ‘privileges’. I do not agree with that, but the question is whether there will come a day when certain current measures specifically for Mâori need no longer apply. For example, will we still need a Mâori Business Facilitation Service? Or will Mâori businesses by then dominate the Business Roundtable?
Tâ Âpirana's comments on the value of education make me reflect on what we want from our education into the future. What should be the pathway for our children when they complete their schooling? What degrees should our young people be taking? Should we start to focus more on sciences than we have in the past? Should people stay at home and work the land? What courses should the wânanga and other tertiary institutions be offering?
Tâ Âpirana’s vision with land development was about the realisation of Mâori potential and the attainment of Mâori success as Mâori. Today we want the same things. My question is what should this look like in the 21st century? Tâ Âpirana’s legacy is the strong Mâori landholding incorporations here on the East Coast and throughout the rest of the motu – land saved for Mâori because he fought to have it placed within a protective regulatory framework. But what could our legacy be for the coming generations of Mâori in 100 years’ time? What should future Mâori success look like?
I leave you with the words of Tâ Âpirana in his final parliamentary speech, before the 1943 election. Unsure of his success, he wrote 'I may not survive the conflict, but the Ngâti Porou tribe will go on; it is a body that does not die'.
I am sure the memory of
Tâ Âpirana will not die either.