Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mike Butler: Tribunal’s twisted history

Research into the life of the first New Zealand Company colonist to step ashore at Petone on January 22, 1840, made me read a lot of 19th century New Zealand history -- both that written close to the period, and the substantial re-writing done by the Waitangi Tribunal from the late 20th century on. The First Colonist - Samuel Deighton 1821-1900, which is advertised on this website, draws upon his letters and other primary sources, early settler histories, biographies, more recent histories, and Waitangi Tribunal reports. I expected tribunal reports to deal with history, but I did not expect them to be finely crafted arguments in support of the claims they purport to investigate. Taxpayers should be outraged that a government-funded body is writing a new history in which the Crown is depicted as deceitful, settlers rapacious, and Maori as helpless victims in need of compensation.

Tribunal reports that I read large amounts of included Rekohu: A Report on Moriori and Ngati Mutunga Claims in the Chatham Islands, He Maunga Rongo: The Report on the Central North Island Claims, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka a Maui: Report on Northern South Island Claims, Te Whanganui a Tara me ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District, Te Urewera report, and Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims

An example of the contrasting treatment of history is the siege and battle of Ngatapa Pa from December 1868 to January 1869. The following account is from James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period (1) published in 1922, which is based on Maori and European oral sources, and from Samuel Deighton’s letters.

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki escapes from custody on the Chatham Islands in July 1868, refuses to surrender to Turanga resident magistrate Reginald Biggs, attacks a government force at Paparatu killing two, loses eight in a battle at Te Koneke, kills six government fighters at Ruakituri River where he is wounded in the foot, kills about 60 at Matawhero (Maori and settlers, including Biggs), and was chased by government forces (settlers, Ngati Porou, and others) eventually to Ngatapa Pa.

The initial attack on Ngatapa Pa by government forces on December 3, 1868, was unsuccessful. A siege ensued and further attacks on December 24 and January 3, 1869, resulted in Te Kooti’s forces fleeing, leaving only women and helpless wounded men. Government Ngati Porou and Arawa fighters chased Te Kooti’s fleeing forces. Te Kooti and his immediate followers escaped, but had lost half his fighting force -- 136 killed, with 120 executed after capture. Government forces had 11 killed and 11 wounded.

Such was war in the mid-19th century. The victors won and the defeated lost. Maori customary practice was to chase and kill the losers, and that was what Ngati Porou and Arawa fighters did.

The Waitangi Tribunal’s Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims revises the event. The report accepts that Te Kooti’s forces killed 29-34 settlers and children of dual descent on the first night of the Matawhero attack, and 20-40 Maori subsequently in the area, but provides a justification for the attack by arguing that Biggs had settled on disputed land and the Crown had forcibly acquired the iconic Rongowhakata meeting house. (2) The report describes a withdrawal by Te Kooti to Ngatapa Pa, omits to mention the attacks by government forces on December 3 and 24, describes the escape by pa defenders, and says that it is possible that some of those killed by government forces in the pursuit were in fact Te Kooti’s prisoners. (3)

The report questions the legality of the imprisonment of Te Kooti and other prisoners on the Chatham Islands in terms of laws at that time and treaty principles, proposes that if they were illegally detained, the prisoners therefore had the right to free themselves, and questions whether the Crown had the right, according to treaty principles, to attack and subdue such ex-prisoners before and after the Matawhero attack, and whether the Crown’s action at Ngatapa were “reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with treaty principles”.

So history is twisted, and the new history is repeated in the popular press. Such pop history popped up in a sidebar to an innocuous piece entitled “High country retreat”. The intro to a piece headlined “Ngatapa massacre”, says that “The Ngatapa Pa site was the scene of a massacre now described as being part of one of the darkest stains on New Zealand’s colonial past. In the early hours of January 5, 1869, over 50 people, mainly women and children, were killed after sheltering on the hilltop from Crown forces.” (4)

Therefore, as a result of substantial reinterpretation, the Government forces that were recorded the early 20th century as fighting escaped prisoners who were waging a guerrilla guerilla campaign, have been transformed, by the early 21st century, into killers of women and children.

This is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of events in New Zealand’s brief history that have been twisted beyond recognition in Waitangi Tribunal reports.

The new history can be readily absorbed by a population that is largely ignorant of history, especially our own. In fact, New Zealand is unique in that history is not explicitly taught to all students. This means that many have little grasp of key aspects of our past. Students today study less New Zealand history at school than they did in the past. By contrast, in the 1966 School Certificate history syllabus at least a third of the 18 topics examined each year were New Zealand topics. (5)

Politicians share in this widespread historical ignorance, which means they are unprepared to critically assess tribunal reports. Each report comes with a summary. Most would read the summary which outlines the tribunal’s recommendations, they probably look at the 1000-2000 page report and think “OMG, so many pages, it must be true”, and sign it off as a claim worth paying out on.

Each settlement has to be approved by a majority in parliament, but once the deed of settlement is signed, and if the ruling party has the numbers, it is a done deal. The select committee process is window dressing, with public criticism routinely ignored. Worse, often MPs with a close association with recipients of the proposed settlement remain sitting on the select committee when they should stand aside because of the perceived conflict of interest.

There has been little discussion or critical analysis of tribunal reports by the mainstream media. Reporters generally regurgitate the treaty negotiation minister’s bland press releases without much comment. Lack of analysis could be attributed to the general ignorance of things historical already discussed.

Neither is there much comment from history professors. Their silence cannot be attributed to ignorance of history. Therefore, they must be generally OK with the whole Waitangi Tribunal process, or they don’t want to put their livelihoods at risk by any unpopular outbursts.

The Waitangi Tribunal can only hear claims concerning Maori grievances. Overlooked are grievances numerous settlers had against the New Zealand Company, mostly because they paid good money for land that in many cases they could not take possession of.

The subject of my book, Samuel Deighton, came to New Zealand with his brother, Richard, each bearing a land order that their father had paid £100 each. The sum of £100 was equivalent to about a year and a half of wages for a laborer in their hometown, Cambridge, at that time. New Zealand Company officials were selling land orders in England before the company had acquired any land in New Zealand, without considering that the people they sold the land orders to would quite likely have to fight for the land they believed they had bought. Both brothers had to fight for their survival in Wanganui, and again in Wairoa.

History is not bunk, as Henry Ford would have us think. While we try to live in the present, our brief history is pressing down on us and is costing us dearly. The historians who stood mildly by while 19th century New Zealand history was reinterpreted according to 20th century treaty principles have trashed their credibility. The government-paid officials who use this ideological history to justify the transfer of millions of dollars in cash, vast swathes of land, commercial buildings and so on to small private corporations dotted around the country in the name of healing the past are simply contemptible.

On that last point, some things never change. In the 19th century, chiefs freely sold land they had some claim to and pocketed the cash -- to hell with their people. Today, iwi leaders receive the cash and pay themselves substantial salaries -- again, poverty among their people remains the responsibility of Work and Income.

The good people of New Zealand are too accepting and accommodating. If this was happening in France, buses would be burning and more than a few windows in the capital would be smashed.

1. Cowan, James, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, Volume 2, R.E. Owen, Government Printer, New Zealand, 1955 reprint
2. Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims Chapter 5, Te Kooti and the Whakarau, Waitangi Tribunal,
3. Ibid, p171
4. See “Ngatapa massacre”
5. Mark Sheehan, “The role of school history”, New Zealand History Online,


Anonymous said...

Why am I not surprised. I have read some of the history you write of and vow to read more.
Why are we so apathetic about where all the current treaty stuff is leading? Perhaps as a result of general dumbing down of people via the education system, perhaps to busy to even think about serious issues. More likely "it doesn't affect me so no problem"

Your penultimate paragraph really sums it all up as far as Maori are concerned.

I wonder how many Iwi had money with South Canterbury. Ray

Anonymous said...

Good article. The rewriting of NZ history has been out of control the last two decades.

Anonymous said...

This kind of untruth/distortion has been obvious for a long long time to anyone who cared enough to see it. Sadly most NZers are more interested in Rugby or whatever, than their nation going down the gurgler.

Where we are today is not just the fault of the Maoris...they are organised and have found a modus operandi that works for their cause.

The problem is gutless, apathetic europeans who wont/dont unify and push back....walking around in circles saying "something should be done" ... but doing nothing themselves....a pathetic mindless herd (with exceptions of course... there are many not like that).
If you doubt me just try this fairytale in some other countries.There would be rioting.
We have also been sold out by our politicians/governments...

I have been pushing different organisations for years ( ie ACT -One NZ), but it was like trying to plat sawdust.

Now we badly need a vehicle for our cause, (or a plane ticket).

Where is it? Who is it?

Brian said...

Comment from Brian.

Mike Butler is the first writer to have the courage to reveal what is happening in the teaching of New Zealand history in our Schools. His article reveals the extent of the indoctrination which is now corrupting the young minds of future citizens of this country.

They will grow up knowing nothing of their forefathers’ settlement of this land, their trials, tribulations, and the plain hard work which changed a Stone Age tribal land into a modern civilized country that we as citizens, enjoy “as of right”!

There is a more sinister side of this whole re-writing of history, it is not however new phenomenon, the Russia Communists after 1917 tried hard to eliminate the old Russia and force their ideology upon a repressed people.

The continual bombardment of misinformation especially the imposed and accepted sainthood status regarding the “Maori Terrorists” of the Land Wars, together with insidious socialistic views of many of those in the teaching profession, is merely a prelude to degrading the European to a second class citizenship. The continual debasement in the acceptance that the colonists where wrong, did immeasurable harm to Maori by totally oppressing as a race has driven a rift between New Zealanders.

It is quite obvious from the detail by Mike Butler that the Maori of the past is not much different from those of today; although left wing activists promoting ideology and exploring further ways to undermine our democracy have been evident for years in the school system.

Behind the revisionists stands the most undemocratic organization this world has ever seen, namely the so-called “United Nations”, whose bureaucratic third world outlook and spendthrift economics, now threaten every democratic government in the Western World.

The big question is what we as Westernized Europeans are going to do to contain, or better still, eliminated this revisionist ideology? This present administration has been down on its knees to Maori due to the undemocratic MMP voting system. The present Government like the last, and in all probability like the next, will care more for absolute power than for the future of this country.

The idea that National might take remedial action to reform the Educational Syllabus is far too much to hope for. A change in Government then? Labour policies been instrumental in promoting this revision and it is an “Ill dog that bites the hand that feeds it”!
A Green Government with its subservience to the United Nations policies would hasten our demise as an independent state.

The biggest problem is not what government we should have but in getting a change is our own outlook which is apathetic. Like the Rome of old, “Bread & Games” (or rather in our case Welfare & Rugby) is mostly all that matters to the general populace.

Our final place in recorded history unless we wake up (revision or not) might well read:

Lost Dinosaurs of the South Pacific.


Michael said...

Thank you for acknowledging the reality of this historical revisionism. I just like to remake the point from a previous posted comment.

After the 20 yr genocide of the Maori on Maori Musket wars (1820-1840) vast tracts of NZ were uninhabited, whole tribes were wiped out, enslaved and absorbed by a few remaining tribal entities. The majority of the surviving Maori were sick of the unending utu and eagerly embraced the vastly superior societal construct of Christianity which included forgiveness, the golden rule, private property rights and the democratic rule of one law for all.

This rewriting of history is a reflection of the corruption entrenched in all our govt institutions. I recently wrote about this in a NZCPR soapbox post called Whanau Fascism.

Paul said...

I have been a keen amateur historian all my life. Since I was little, the opportunity to read actual history of New Zealand has always been near to impossible. I remember watching 'After School' with Ole Olson where he continually fed kids drivel that painted pre-European NZ as a paradise where peacefully inclined Maori 'warriors'(!) didn't actually do any fighting, but spent their warlike energies doing carvings and beautiful Maori maidens cooked fish, tended kids and little else. Any other viewpoint was regarded as racist, right-wing nonsense put out by the evil English...who, for reasons best known to themselves, wanted to trick NZ kids like me into hating Maori people.(!) This was in the late '70s and early '80s. Its gotten worse and worse since. Imperialism was an historical fact. It doesn't matter whether it was a 'good' thing or not. Few people know or care that Maori were foremost among those pleading with a reluctant British government to make New Zealand a colony. If this had not happened, the French would certainly have taken over and brought their well-known methods for dealing with 'Native unrest' with them. It is quite true that there have been breakages of the Treaty; its true that Maori have been moved off land that should have been theirs. Its equally true that Iwi 'Leadership' has been corrupted by self seeking, at-most, part Maori crooks. Where are the millions in pay outs going? To help actual Maori people? Not a bit of it.

Anonymous said...

For me, the takeaway from this essay seems to be your disapproval of anyone (but especially, it seems, the Waitangi Tribunal) providing an alternative study of our colonial history.

It would seem that you believe there to be only one or two irrefutable treatises on the subject and that these are beyond reproach and reinterpretation.

I don't know where you have been living, but where I come from; history is one of many disciplines that are in a constant state of revision and reinterpretation.

I think it is a little narrow minded to expect there to be but a handful of views for any given subject.

I don't see that the specific Waitangi Tribunal report examples you cite as being are radical departures from the events also cited from James Cowan, nor are they 'twisted beyond recognition'.

But I do think that the focus of both sets of histories are different, as I expect they would be as James Cowan's work is more concerned with military campaigns and significant military events whereas the Waitangi Tribunal is concerned with the downstream effects of these actions on Maori groups and any breaches of the Treaty that may have occurred as a result.

I'm sorry if you have a problem with that, but history doesn't exist in a vacuum and there is never just a single account of anything.

In my opinion, more recent historical accounts relating to NZ's colonial period, published perhaps in the last 30 years or so have been sorely needed.

For it is only within this time that NZ has had the opportunity to read a Maori account and understand those conflicts from a Maori perspective simply because the Victorian account had been so dominant in NZ culture and within the NZ education system for so long.

In some cases, Waitangi Tribunal reports are telling Maori histories for the first time.

I think it is important to learn about history from as many different perspectives as possible, and that we should be careful not to let our personal political viewpoints muddy the water.


Anonymous said...

The need for more in depth analysis of actual events looking at it from both sides would be a good thing for school history lessons. Its the education system that needs looking at. We hear one version and make a decision??

As for Iwi money. Most Iwi have a decision to make between - give every member a cash grant. try to invest and grow the money, setup grants for certain things eg education, sports, housing. But like every business those at the top seem to be getting the cream. Its not as bad as one side depicts it.