Young Leaders' Conference
Young leaders' conferences, like action songs, are hybrids—crosses between Maori and European custom.
The first such conferences were held by Te Aute old boys in 1897 and the years following. The idea of the younger generation of Maoris trying to influence the older ones was at that time most unusual, in fact revolutionary. It was remarkable that the young men, returning to their village after the conferences, and preaching their message, were given a hearing at all.
Still even at that time, the Maori elders wer getting a little accustomed to the spectacle of the young preaching to the old, for various religions had made use of young Maori missionaries and pastors whose message was listened to with respect.
When the members of the Young Maori Party became Members of Parliament, and ceased to be young, but remained leaders, nothing was heard of young leaders' conferences for quite some time.
In fact the first major one to be held this century, as far as I know, was the Auckland one in 1939, organized by Sir Apirana Ngata, Professor Sutherland and Professor Belshaw.
Over the last two years, young leaders' conferences have become quite a fashion—they are being held in different places every few weeks. The fashion started with a conference called by the Auckland Regional Council for Adult Education in August-September 1959. This was very carefully prepared; adult education tutors did the bulk of the planning, with the guidance of Professor Belshaw. Those who attended were very enthusiastic and considered similar conferences should be held in every district of the country.
Since then, some twenty have been held in just about every important centre of Maori population. The two permanent tutors in Maori adult education, Messrs Te Hau and Parker, have devoted much of their time organizing them and on each occasion they sent away some 50–100 customers completely satisfied.
The conferences fall into two types, national and regional. There have so far been two national ones, both in Auckland, and these two have drawn delegates chosen by adult education tutors from all tribes. The former of these conferences lasted a full week. The regional ones, which drew delegates from particular tribal areas—also by invitation—usually last only a weekend. These regional conferences are usually organized by committees of local leaders—the adult education tutors invite the committee which takes fairly full charge of the proceedings with some help from the tutor.
Finance for the conferences comes from the Adult Education Councils, but the Maori Purposes Fund, some Maori Trust Boards and some Maori incorporations have also made contributions. Delegates have on some occasions been asked to pay a fee for board.
Who are the delegates? A rule that dates back to the 1939 conference is that ‘young leaders’ must generally be no older than 35. A small group of older people is also invited; they sit in a separate room and form an ‘elders’ round table! This is done so the younger people are not overwhelmed by the presence of the more experienced elders. Indeed there is quite a difference in tone between the two groups—the older ones, usually experienced in public affairs, tend to be severely practical, whereas the younger groups get more deeply involved in general principles while they are usually much less informed on matters of administrative detail.
Selection of Delegates
On what basis are delegates selected? Generally, it seems that two types of people are invited: people with some experience in running Maori organizations, and educated Maoris who are thought to be potential leaders but whose community activities so far have been quite limited. By and large, it is a well-educated group, certainly very much above average in schooling. Many are public servants and teachers and therefore have special knowledge of some of the subjects the conferences always discuss. Their Maori cultural background varies from very extensive to an almost total blank. In making the selection, the tutors and committees therefore do not consider only the achievement of each delegate but also the way they think the delegate will develop,
either as leaders or as students of Maori culture.
Choice of subjects at conference follows a set pattern which goes back to the Te Aute meetings last century. This means that education, land, housing, crime are always on the agenda. Community development is also often on the list. Each conference desires to cover the whole range of ‘Maori problems’, devoting as much time to each as possible.
Round Table Discussion
Most of the time of the conferences is taken up on round table discussions. The membership is split up into groups of about 25, each in a separate room. Discussions follow a detailed list of questions which are put to delegates in a cyclostyled programme. At a conference at Kaitaia last year, for instance, the subject ‘Education’ was split into twelve questions and these were again split up further. For instance:
(a) Evidence points to a smaller proportion of Maori secondary school pupils submitting themselves for School Certificate and University Entrance examinations.
Is this true of your district? If so, what are the reasons?
What should be done to make the proportion the same as for pakeha pupils?
Question 1 (b) was equally wide.
At a weekend conference, a round table has to cope with a dozen questions of this kind in just a few hours. The usual practice is for each delegate to make a very brief statement about how things are in his/her district. When everyone has spoken there is some talk about the problem as a whole: what can be done about it? Perhaps a recommendation is passed—for instance, if lack of money is thought to be behind school failure, a recommendation is passed that parents should be given financial help. Then the time has come to move on to the next item, as it is considered essential to get through the whole agenda. It is only rarely that the practical implications of a recommendation are explored in detail.
At some of the conferences, lectures are given. At the Christchurch one last August, four lecturers had been invited—Messrs Herewini, Booth. Te Hau and Kawharu. These men gave addresses on the topics usually covered at these conferences—the role of tribal committees, crime, Maori land and urbanization. Round table discussions were based on the facts given in the lectures.
Whether lectures are desirable at leadership conferences is an often debated point. At the 1959 conference in Auckland there were no lectures at all but a total of twelve ‘data papers’ were handed out—reports by experts on the subjects to be discussed. The idea was that delegates would read all these reports before coming to conference and that they could discuss the questions put before them with full knowledge of the basic facts. This saved the time that would be taken in reading 12 addresses and also made delegates think perhaps more independently.
This principle, followed at many of the district conferences, is open to the objection that very few people, whether Maori or Pakeha, read data papers before going to any conference. They may read them afterwards. It has been found that at young leaders' conferences a small minority reads them and makes good use of them in discussion. Much help is also received from experts invited in for questioning during the discussions.
In fact, the presence of these experts who are either Maoris or Europeans in close contact with Maori life, has a stimulating influence on the conferences as a whole.
Every conference has its plenary sessions at which the round tables report their findings and place their recommendations before the full meeting. Many of these recommendations are very general, e.g. that more hostel accommodation is need for Maoris, that Maori clubs should teach more traditional culture. Others are decidedly practical, such as the proposal at the Christchurch conference that a body to rehabilitate Maori prisoners be set up under the control of the Christchurch tribal committee. Other recommendations take the form of requests to government.
One important principle of the conferences is that they should not become political nor channels for putting pressure on government. Once a recommendation is passed and perhaps published in a newspaper, their task is over. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that where a gathering contains many people active in public affairs, the recommendations can be influential. This is particularly so if the conferences are attended by prominent persons. One example is a recommendation made by young leaders at Waihi a year ago to the effect that there should be special institutions for Maori prisoners. Mr Hunn, who was present, took up this suggestion and has been advocating it ever since. If it should one day become a reality, this will be due in some measure to the conference where the idea was first aired and proved to have popular Maori support.
It is as a testing place of ideas that the conferences have been most valuable. For instance, Dr Rina Moore advocated at several conferences the introduction of family planning among the Maori people. At Kaitaia for the first time a Maori meeting, by a small minority, declared itself in favour of publicity on family planning being made. Thus the idea was launched through the young leaders' conferences. These have therefore assumed a function which the marae has been gradually losing.
Conferences involve an enormous amount of preparation and follow-up. There is the sending of invitations, a task demanding most careful consideration; there are arrangements for catering
and boarding to be made; the agenda must be prepared. This too is a major task, as the data papers go into the agenda, as well as lists of questions for conference discussion. The average size is 35 pages of cyclostyled single-spaced foolscap. Numerous officials, all voluntary, help the proceedings at conference: the steering committee, the accommodation and catering people, as well as some 12 reporters who take notes at all the sessions. After conference, Adult Education produces a report based on the reporters' notes and the recommendations. This again runs into some 60 pages of single spaced foolscap.
What do these conferences achieve? For those who attend, a period of discussion on matters of such practical importance is an excellent educational experience. It is adult education of the best kind—most of those who attend make an active contribution to their round table; if they are not able to put forward new ideas, they will still report conditions in their district and so begin to see their situation more clearly. Contact with other conference members is also a valuable experience, as such contact is by no means easy to establish otherwise.
Do delegates manage to make changes in their communities after they return from conferences? This is hard to estimate, but there are cases where valuable work is now being done which looks very much as though it was inspired by young leaders' conferences. For instance, work on educational advancement in Wanganui and Palmerston North may well have been inspired by discussions at the 1960 conference in Marton.
This work however has been done by a small group and cannot be called a ‘community’ activity, valuable though it is. Indeed, one wonders whether conferences between an educated elite will easily bring about community changes of a very fundamental kind. It is dangerous, in my opinion, to place too much reliance on educated elites, as is being done in a number of other countries seeking cultural advancement. Only too often the result of training an elite has been to draw this elite away from the rest of the people so that in the end the people were split into a high-quality elite that kept on progressing, and the common herd who were left more or less as they were.
For this reason the holding of conferences where people can come only by special invitation has its own dangers. Maori adult education rightfully belongs to the isolated village, not the university lecture hall.
It is easy to see how the elite system developed. With only three Maori adult education tutors it is quite impossible to give an effective service to some 50,000 to 70,000 Maori adults in rural areas. Yet, educational progress in rural areas is undoubtedly retarded when only the children, and not the adults, are educated. Good regular adult education programmes are needed, offering the people a chance to develop their thinking and their understanding of both European and Maori concepts.
It is possible, if the scope of these conferences is widened, that they will ultimately help to revive in a new form the marae discussions of earlier days. The modern Maori certainly still likes to hear good talk and participate in it. The marae was the old Maoris' academy and the discussion group could be the academy of the modern Maori seeking further education. However, it should not become the prerogative of an elite.
In April 1962 the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F.) will have completed twenty-one years of service. The Royal New Zealand Air Force was the first of the three services to enlist women into their ranks, and at first the scheme was regarded somewhat dubiously. But it proved very successful, and by the end of the war there were 2,000 W.A.A.F., many of them Maori women.
To celebrate this 21st anniversary, a Dominion-wide reunion of ex-W.A.A.F. is planned. There will be a cocktail party and a buffet dinner on March 24, and a short service on March 25, 1962. These will be held in the Students' Union Building at Victoria University, Wellington, and it is hoped that as many ex-W.A.A.F. as possible will be able to gather to enjoy the functions and talk over old times.
Ex-W.A.A.F. who would like full details are asked to write to the Secretary, W.A.A.F. reunion, Box 585, Wellington, so that they may not be missed out.
Aided by subsidies from the Department of Maori Affairs, five young Maoris each year will begin training as farmers under a long established and successful Auckland scheme.
This has been announced by the Auckland vocational guidance centre of the Education Department, which administers the project on behalf of the trustees of the Auckland Youth Farm Settlement Scheme.
In the past Maori trainees have successfully completed the training, but as individuals in the same way as other youths and not as nominees of the Maori Affairs Department.
Trainees are placed with specially chosen farmers, and live and work on the farms very much as members of the family. The training extends over a six-year-period, after which those who have completed the course receive guidance in establishing themselves as farmers. They are also given a Government subsidy which may be used for such purposes as buying stock for their new farms.