Maori War Resistance Betrayed

Six weeks after the Sept 11 attacks in the USA, the NZ Army began a Marae based recruiting drive. According to its promoters, the aim was to tackle the problem of high youth unemployment among Maori. Considering the timing, it is laughable to suggest that such sentiments have been taken seriously. Unfortunately or indeed shamefully the fact remains that some Maori leaders have taken on board, aided by pro-US media hype, the sales pitch delivered by the state and military toward recruiting young Maori. More insulting, is the launching of this campaign in the Waikato, the starting point of the Maori resistance to forced conscription in 1917.

Betrayal and misleadership

At the outbreak of the First Imperialist World War in 1914, it was determined by the N.Z. Government that no organised Maori contingent would take an active combat role because the war was considered a conflict between white men. The prospect of ‘natives’ killing whites was inconceivable, at least for the expedient short term. By 1915 and the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign, soldiers of the 1st Maori Contingent were taking an active role in the slaughter on behalf of British Imperialism.

With the mounting toll numbering in the million for British and Allied troops from Passchendaele, the Somme to the Dardenelles, the urgent need for more cannon fodder was required. ‘Press ganging’ natives for this was instituted by the N.Z. government in 1917. The primary target being the forced conscription of men from the Waikato, since men from most other tribal areas had already volunteered for the first Maori Contingent and Pioneer Battalion.

The immediate response from the Waikato was a resounding rejection of the N.Z. government decision by the Te Ariki Te Puea Herangi, the tribe’s paramount chief and leader of the Kingitanga. By refusing to allow men from the Waikato to partake in the Imperialist’s war, she upheld the staunch belief that to serve the interests of the thieves and confiscators of Waikato land (and hence their economic and spiritual base), would be an insult to the massive sacrifices made by her people during the post ‘Te Tiriti o Waitangi’ colonial land wars of the previous century.

The rounding up and imprisonment with hard labour of hundreds of Waikato men was to be entirely expected, considering there was nothing left to steal. It however could never contain the spirit to resist peacefully, a tradition that had been handed on from early in the 1800’s by the prophet pacifist of ‘Pai Marire’ Te Ua Haumene to Titokowaru, Te Whiti, Tohu and more poignantly for the Waikato, the prophet chief Tawhiao. It was in the spirit of Tawhiao that Te Puea took the stand on behalf of her people.

A little more than thirty years after the last pitched battles were fought in Aotearoa, Maori ‘Kupapa’ leaders such as the four Maori MPs, Apirana Ngata, Eastern Maori; Maui Pomare, Western Maori; Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck), Northern Maori and Taare Parata, Southern Maori, were determined to raise a Maori contingent to be blooded as a part of NZ’s contribution to the British Imperialist War effort. They went so far as to form a 'Native Contingent Committee’, with the help of another Kupapa leader Sir James Carroll under the auspices of the NZ government, to organise Maori cannon fodder for the up coming war.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Aotearoa, there were calls from conscientious objectors such as Archibald Baxter calling on workers not to go to kill for the likes of greedy war-mongers. People who became social pariahs because of the strong stand that they took against the war and the punishment that they suffered.

In Europe a rising revolutionary voice was being heard when Karl Liebknecht, an MP in the German Parliament and leader of the Spartacist League together with Rosa Luxemburg lead a May Day anti-war march consisting of 10,000 workers in Potsdam in 1916 shouting ‘Down with the war’. Their call was for soldiers of opposing sides to stop fighting one another to save their imperialist bosses. Liebknecht was jailed but his and Luxemburg’s days were numbered.

In stark contrast, the highly educated and bankrupt idiotic stand taken by the Maori leaders calling to support the war was nothing short of a shameful bloody disgrace. ‘Sir’ Apirana Ngata’s now infamous 1943 essay on ‘The Price of Citizenship’, will go down as one of the worst pieces of writing in Maori literature. In it he wrote that Maori should go off to fight for the interests of Imperialism in order to earn the ‘right of citizenship’ in Aotearoa, forgetting that the price had already been paid fighting Imperialism at home.

The legacy of colonisation

When N.Z. once again climbed on board the Imperialist war bandwagon in 1991, Tainui leader Bob Mahuta echoed the call from Te Puea by stating that N.Z. should stay out of the conflict and the Maori service personnel should refuse to go. However commendable the stand taken by Bob Mahuta was over the Gulf War, it was completely undone by the time US President Bill Clinton visited NZ for the 1999 APEC conference.

His welcoming to Aotearoa and stepping foot on the "Whenua" (land) of Tainui, was an affront to the anti imperialist stand taken by Te Puea. Clinton had already at that point been indicted on war crimes against humanity by an international body of jurists, legal entities and progressive workers organisations over his continuing war against the people of Iraq. Human Rights and humanitarian organisations had already made extensive catalogues of crimes and atrocities committed by the US and it’s UN lackeys against the people of Iraq, all of which was made publicly available.

In spite of this, calls by so-called Maori leaders, who essentially are ‘brown table’ capitalists and bureaucrats, to welcome the leader with the blood of millions on his hands, was their chance for a bit of prestige and to make more bucks. Insult was added to injury when the US president was welcomed to Turangawaewae Marae in the heart of the Waikato.

The holistic Maori world view, (the recognition of the connection of human relations to environment, past, present and future historical contexts), was put temporarily on hold for this purpose; so as to cloud and blind a people already desensitised by the pro-imperialist and consumerist clap trap being promoted by the U.S. President.

‘Kupapa’ (collaborators etc.), is a term too easily applied to leaders who actively sought favour with people in financial power and positions of authority, because many of the Maori communities that they serve, survive on the barest minimum of resources. Caught between a rock and a hard place, many see no choice beyond the meagre handouts by government, Lotto and so on to sustain a means of independence and identity. A situation forced by capital because it ensures that by complying with its demands co-operation will come at the drop of a hat.

Caught in this web are those who remain and not necessarily the best qualified ‘politically’ to serve their communities. These individuals are charged with conveying policies and forms generally imposed from outside the tribal structures. In order to conform to the ‘norms’ of these outside influences some have embellished themselves beyond their personal financial means by expropriating funds meant for other uses.

Whether innocently or otherwise, this layer of bureaucrats has ended up substituting itself in place of the traditional structures as the voice of ‘Maoridom’. Linked to a bourgeois political support base, many have the task of relating party policies to their home communities. They serve no other purpose than acting as party functionary go-betweens linking bureaucracy to the people.

Maori MP’s Betrayal

This brings us full circle back to the beginning of our story. When the Labour/Alliance Government announced it’s full support for the US lead war against the people of Afghanistan in October in the name of ‘Fighting Terrorism’, the position of Maori MP’s in Parliament and particularly in Government were put on notice. As expected, without exception, all of the conservative right wing members voted in support, together with the ex Airforce mechanic from Tai Tokerau, Labour Party hawk, Dover Samuels.

Alliance member and Mana Motuhake leader Willie Jackson made a lame duck and ambiguous response in October by saying that he was not in favour of a combat role for NZ forces but offered moral support for Maori soldiers serving in the SAS, who were by that stage already committed. Since the SAS largely consists of Maori and it’s ethos is ‘take no prisoners’, it is ludicrous to suggest that Jackson can be taken seriously.

For the rest, the response has been tacit and muted, with the exception of Te Tai Hauauru Government MP Nanaia Mahuta and Waiariki Government MP Mita Ririnui. As a Waikato member of the Kingitanga and relative of Te Puea, Mahuta’s stand or concern was based on the position taken by Te Puea against conscription. However, being unable to voice more serious dissent by crossing the floor on the issue she succumbed to the tight internal ruling of the Labour Party council.

Mita Ririnui’s objections were based on his Ratana religious convictions where he sought to find peaceful means to solve the crisis. By the time of the December 1st Labour Party conference there were no rumblings from either quarter. Anti war protests outside the conference venue could not encourage any further response from the Maori MP’s. They had been silenced. Their intermediary function between government and their people had been performed admirably.

Marae Recruitment

The ‘brown bureaucracy’ was to acquit itself well when on the 26th of October it lead a high powered contingent onto Nga Tai Erua Marae in the North Waikato to begin the state’s war drive recruiting campaign. At it’s head was the Tainui environmental wing – the Huakina Trust, who were earlier approached to put the initiative into action. With some trepidation and misgivings from some individuals, the task was carried out.

Other Marae such as Mangatangi have resisted approaches by the military and many are in two minds. The strength to resist lies in the political enlightenment of all the people and their leaders of the communities affected. Armed with the example set by Te Puea and linking it to the present situation is at least a beginning but by no means an end to the matter.

That enlightenment is understanding the nature of Imperialism and the way that it shuts down the links between peoples’ immediate experiences and those of their past. By individualising the immediate experience as the responsibility of an individual, the effect is a closing down or shutting off of a reality that is too hard to handle only to be replaced by prejudiced perceptions, the product of fantasy but presented as fact.

Imperialism is about divide and rule.By placing Maori in uniform on one side against Maori who stand to assert their rights as Tangata Whenua and as workers fighting for the rights of working people, the situation becomes bleak. Like the shamefaced Maori cops on Bastion Point in 1978, many knew that what they were doing was wrong but chose to go against their consciences in the service of the state. Since the end of the land wars in the 1800’s, Maori have taken part in every British and more recently US lead Imperialist war on the poorest elements of humanity around the world, while forgetting the plight of their own ancestors battles and their resulting legacy of colonialism.


from Class Struggle 42 December 2001/January 2002

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