LAND UNDER MAORI MANAGEMENT
Maori Incorporations have been with us for almost forty years, but just lately they have rapidly grown in importance to a strong force in the farming and forest industry of New Zealand. They have become an efficient instrument for using profitably much of the lands and the forest still held by Maori owners in common.
The success of Maori incorporations over the last generation has, just lately, enabled parliament to put the assets of the East Coast Trust, worth several million pounds, into the hands of 24 incorporations, which are being formed at the present moment.
This article describes the place these incorporations occupy in Maori life today and in the New Zealand economy. In order to give the reader a closer look at the workings of these incorporations, the tale of the establishment of Maori management over the East Coast Trust stations will be told in some detail.
This will provide an ending to the dramatic story of the East Coast Commission, of which the beginning was published in our issue of winter 1954. It is hoped this will satisfy readers who may have become a little impatient for the continuation of that story.
For the material about the early history of the incorporations, we have to thank Mr W. T. Ngata, who compiled a wealth of facts, until now inaccessible, for the use of Te Ao Hou.
The birthplace of the idea of Maori incorporations is on the East Coast. A group of people, anxious to initiate sheepfarming on Maori lands, formed a ‘Union of Ngati Porou Farmers’. It was chiefly this group which, in 1905, sponsored the election of Sir Apirana Ngata to Parliament; he was to be the man who would help formulate legislation to protect their land interests and incidentally the land interests of the Maori people generally.
Meetings of the younger section of the people and their kaumatua were held all along the East Coast to propagate the principles of the Union, which were set out at length in an article in the Pipiwharauroa of March 1906. Utilizing Maori land was the union's most important purpose, and to achieve it, the Pakeha had to be convinced that the Maori was not lazy, had proved himself a good farmer, and needed government help for the development of Maori land. Members of the union were to make themselves familiar with their land titles. More articles followed in Pipiwharauroa on the raising of sheep. Ngati Porou elders were persuaded to raise money to give their sons an agricultural education, either by studying Pakeha practice or by going to agricultural colleges in New Zealand and Australia.
The early years of the twentieth century saw wide tracts of land in the Walapu Valley and all along the Coast being cleared of bush, sown in grass and stocked. Much of this work (Ahikouka, Tikitiki, Marangairoa) was done by communal effort and such finance as was needed came from the meagre purses of the kaumatua and the philanthropy of such men as Samuel Williams, the founder of Te Aute College. The communal farms became financial and used their money and credit to develop further land. The need to have a financial organization behind the farms led to the establishment of the Waiapu Farmers' Cooperation.
With the development of the farms the need grew for some form of security that could be offered to banks and commercial houses. This opened up the question of the land titles. They had to be either individualized or reduced to such form as to enable the owners to offer their land as security for mortgages. It was in this way that the idea of incorporations was born.
As early as 1909, incorporations were made legal bodies by parliament (Maori Land Act. 1909). Some years ago, a count was made in the Gisborne office of the Department of Maori Affairs, and then there were 180 in the Tairawhiti district. Now this number would be somewhat higher. Other districts have adopted incorporations as a means of utilizing their land resources, one of the largest being the Puketapu Incorporation, a large timber concern of Ngati Tuwhareton.
In the beginning, incorporations were family affairs; the owners would meet, make all the necessary decisions and do the work themselves. Gradually, this co-operative spirit lessened, and incorporations now often resemble private companies far more than communal enterprises. This has three main causes. First, owners of a block nowadays are hardly ever living together as community; they are more likely to be scattered all over the country. Secondly, incorporations often are big business now. This is true of giants like the Puketapu or the Mangatu Incorporations and many others. Such businesses are complex and vast sums of money are involved. Work is so longer communal but done by paid labour. The difficult tasks of management and keeping of accounts have passed into the hands of paid servants. Thirdly, owners are becoming legal-minded. They want to be sure of having a proper say and insist on proper machinery. If they are dissatisfied they bring in lawyers.
The modern type of incorporation often achieves a high degree of business efficiency. Speaking of the representatives of the present Committees of Management of what were once the East Coast Trust lands, an insider like Mr R. F. Gambrill has stated: ‘I have been more than
impressed with their business acumen and ability I doubt whether any group of Europeans similarly placed and selected could have shown a more intelligent grasp of the problems nor have afforded more constructive criticism and help’.
Some incorporations have failed, but it is open to question whether the percentage of failures is any greater than those of European companies over the same period, or whether irregularities under the one are any more prevalent than under the other. Trading banks have financed the Maori incorporations for many years.
Principal causes of failure have been poor accounting and secretarial administration, struggles for power among conflicting factions and assumption of power by dominant personalities. In European companies similar tendencies of course exist.
A GIANT CLUSTER OF INCORPORATIONS
The most important of the Maori incorporations is undoubtedly the giant cluster established just recently on the East Coast, in the place of the East Coast Trust Lands. If the East Coast Commissioner was, for many years, the most powerful farming concern on the Coast, the new incorporations, provided they remain united, can retain a similar position.
The beginning of the story of the East Coast Commission was told in an earlier issue of Te Ao Hou; the Maori people tried to farm these lands towards the end of last century but failed; parliament saved the lands from being sold up and placed them under a commissioner who managed not only to salvage them, but to transform them into unecumbered assets worth several million pounds. Meanwhile, about the nineteen thirties, a new generation of Maoris had grown up with greater experience in managing land, greater selfconfidence and an understandable desire to run their own affairs.
To give these people some satisfaction, parliament, in 1935, set up ‘block committees’ to assist and advise the East Coast Commissioner. These committees met regularly and discussed the problems of their respective blocks, but they had no power of decision. Mr Jessop, the commissioner, considered that this should rest with him as long as the financial position necessitated the continuance of the trust.
This financial position, however, improved from year to year. In 1939 the principal security debt was paid off; in 1945 the lands were clear from all the mortagages. The wool boom of the late forties greatly improved the position of the weaker brothers among the blocks, the so-called debtor blocks which were still encumbered with debt to other blocks in the trust (the so-called creditor blocks). The great majority were now able to stand soundly on their own feet.
After several years of preliminaries, preparations for winding up were started in 1950. The first stage consisted of a huge court case, fought in the Supreme Court in Gisborne, with both sides representing thousands of Maori owners—on the one side were the beneficiaries of the East Coast Trust Lands; on the other side descendants of those whose land had been under the East Coast Settlement Company and had been sold at one time or another to pay debts. Most of this land had been sold before 1908, and its owners or their heirs obviously had a claim.
A very pleasant compromise was reached, and settlement was made out of the huge reserves accumulated by Mr Jessop. At the time of writing, the complex task of liquidation of the other blocks is nearly completed and many committees of management are completing their first independent farming year.
ONENUI STATION: AN INCORPORATION
Te Ao Hou had an opportunity to study the ways of the new incorporations more closely during a trip to Onenui Station. This must be one of the most isolated places in New Zealand; it certainly is one of the most beautiful. Occupying the northern tip of Mahia peninsula the station can only be reached for short periods every twelve hours when the tide is down. We left our car behind on the beach and were conducted to the homestead over a mile or so of rocks covered with shallow water. The rocks were rough; only people who know the terrain intimately know which bumps to choose and which to avoid. We had arrived a day before the first meeting of the new incorporation (about a year ago)—a public meeting combined with an admirable habit still carried over from the block committee days: the annual picnic to which all owners in the block
above sea level. The sea is on two sides and on the south side is the inhabited world, cut off by a deep unroaded gully.
The traditional name of this land is Tawapata, or, to give the proper technicalities: Tawapata South No. 1 Block. It was on Tawapata that the famous marriage took place between Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine. The very birthplace of the Kahungunu tribe, Pukekarere Pa, was just above the piece of beach we had passed, and only a few minutes from the homestead is the rock from which Kahungunu watched the shags diving into the sea. Of course, the whole story was told again that night at the homestead; Rongomaiwahine's very striking challenge to Kahungunu, his visit to the peninsula, his incredible cunning in first discrediting and then killing her husband Tamatakutai.
The East Coast Commissioner at first, leased Onenui along with many of the other stations. In 1930 when the lease expired, the place was neglected and covered with scrub. It was then that vigorous development started; the station's carrying capacity today is twice what it was in 1934.
A hundred people arrived for the picnic; several truck loads of them being hurried across at low tide, to stay until the next low tide. What new decisions would be made, now that the owners had assumed independent management? To judge from the conversations that went on before the meeting, one would imagine the body corporate was going to revolutionize the whole conduct of the station. A road was needed from the plateau through the gully to the rest of the world; 800 acres had to be bought to improve access; development had to be speeded up and, in the future, the land should be farmed intensively; being well-watered and fertile, it could be used for cropping; an entire village settlement could be established once again on Tawapata, as in Kahungunu's day. The proceeds of the station could finance a housing scheme. Always this dream of communal living on an idyllic spot. The Maori people still foster this vision everywhere, but at this remote corner it does not seem likely to materialize. Still, one can never tell.
Could the station stand these revolutionary changes? In casual conversation, some of the people told us there was no doubt of it. It was admitted that Tawapata South No. I was still a debtor block, but the debt was regarded as quite trivial against the great assets. The land carries 11,500 sheep, 1,000 cattle. When the management committee met, the story was different. The chairman, Mr Sid Christie, of Nuhaka, the biggest owner in the block, spoke cautiously and the others agreed. This was a big new responsibility so suddenly thrust upon them. It was not yet possible quite to see what it would involve. They had to find their feet, feel their way. Although all the plans for progress were good ones, it would be unwise to take risks; better go slow. The
Hetekia Te Kani Te Ua, prominent owner and member of the committee of management of the Mangatu Incorporations. (John Ashton Photograph.)
This appeared to an outside observer a very sound approach to the difficulties of managing several hundred thousand pounds worth of assets. At the meeting there had been, at call, not only the liquidator and one-time deputy commissioner, Mr F. N. Bull, but also experts of the banking and stock world and an acknowledged Maori farming expert. Advice from all these people had been available to the body corporate; long-range plans had been formulated, and at the same time a conservative financial policy had been adopted.
One crucial problem for these incorporations is how to preserve all the advantages of unity while keeping their independence. Many support a plan to form a company in which all the ex-commission blocks would take shares. This company would be a service organization, owing the East Coast Commission buildings, doing accounting and secretarial work, taxation returns, distribution of profits and so forth. It could act as a co-operative buying and selling organization, with a bulk store, a farming adviser and other facilities which, although in no way limiting the powers of the incorporations, could help them considerably.
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
This is only one instance of stations handed over to Maori management. Just now, bodies corporate are being set up everywhere to take over control from the Maori Trustee. Nor is this movement confined to the East Coast; in the Aotea District the 12,000 acre Morikau block has been released.
The more incorporations become a force in New Zealand business, the more they are likely to lose their early communal character and become, in effect, something like a private company. In the Maori Affairs Act 1953, many of the provisions were tightened to make them conform more closely to modern business principles. A body corporate now has to state the purposes for which it is formed; the Puketapu Incorporation which engages in large-scale timber-milling shows the extent to which incorporations can enter into propositions other than farming. The constitution also has to set out how revenue may be applied. Committee members are to hold office for three years, one-third being elected every year. Accounts have to be audited and lodged with the Maori Land Court for public inspection. Voting is to be by share interests, not heads. No committee member can be proxy for other owners, nor can a person holding proxies be elected. The Maori Land Court acts as registrar of the bodies corporate, holds lists of owners, assets and so forth and fixes the quorum for general meetings.
The trend in all these changes is obvious; it is towards modern business principles and there is no doubt owners as a whole are pleased at the changes. At the same time, the legislators have
Typical view on Morikau Station, Wanganui River, now handed over to the incorporated owners. (Charles Hale Photograph.)
taken care not to make the demands too tough. Many of the incorporations are still small family arrangements and these should not be weighed down by an intolerable burden of office and secretarial work. Private company law would be too tough for them. It looks as if the 1953 legislation has enabled these smaller bodies to continue comfortably while the owners of bigger bodies have all the essential protection they need.
The Maori character of the incorporations, in the meantime, is being preserved. There is a world of difference between an ordinary company based on people who have bought shares and a family or tribe, farming or otherwise using land in common, their ‘shares’ being ancestral land they have inherited. The continued use of the Maori Land Court instead of the Registrar of Companies will tend to keep that difference alive.
Furthermore, by incorporating family land, one ensures that it will always remain in the family. Under the 1953 Act, the Maori Trustee may buy shares worth less than £25, but he is bound to offer these shares first to the body corporate as a whole. If the body corporate does not want to buy them, the Maori Trustee may sell to any owner in the incorporation but the law does not permit him to sell to outsiders.
Thousands of individual Maori farmers have been settled during the last generation and it is to be hoped that wherever possible, Maori land will be used to settle individuals who can make a living out of farming. There are, however, large areas of Maori land where this solution is not so easy and it is here that incorporations have an important part to play in the great struggle to make every acre of Maori land fully productive.