Monday, March 18, 2013
Mike Butler: Historian caught twisting history
Propaganda from the Constitutional Advisory Panel provides an easy lesson on how our history has been twisted. “Maori focus on constitutional moves”,(1) an op-ed piece written by Dr Danny Keenan and published in the Wanganui Chronicle on Saturday, appears intended to give readers a treatyist nudge before a visit by the Constitutional Advisory Panel on Thursday.
Keenan has a PhD in history, used to work in the Maori Affairs Department, and was an associate professor in the Maori studies department of Massey University in Wellington. His research bibliography covers diverse topics including the New Zealand sovereignty wars, on the relationship between land and Maori identity, the reporting and racialising of child abuse, and Maori resistance to the written word.
Penguin Publishers withdrew and revised Keenan's book "Wars Without End" in 2009 after allegations of plagiarism. (2)
His Saturday op-ed piece included a somewhat naïve description of New Zealand’s constitutional make-up as having neither a written constitution nor courts to monitor it without appreciating the reality that countries with written constitutions and those without can both function well or poorly.
But Keenan repeated two assertions without explanation and without evidence expecting we should take these assertions as facts, especially since he is a PhD in history. He asserted that the Native Lands Act 1862 “aimed to extinguish all Maori land titles”, and he said that special Maori representation "was intended as temporary, until all Maori land was gone”.
Both of these assertions are untrue. I will compare Keenan’s assertion about the Native Lands Act in this article and will discuss his selective treatment of the history of the Maori seats separately.
What did the Native Lands Act 1862 set out to do? Keenan said it “aimed to extinguish all Maori land titles”. But, according to its preamble, “provided for the ascertainment of the ownership of native lands and for granting certificates of title thereto”. Here is exactly what the Act contains:
1. Short title Native Lands Act 1862.
2. Title by native custom to be recognised.
3. Courts may recognize title as such.
4. Governor may establish courts to ascertain native title.
5. Europeans to preside over courts.
6. Governor may make rules for the court.
7.Courts to ascertain and define native ownership.
8. Governor may confirm proceedings of the court.
9. Governor may make reserves and settlements for the benefit of native owners.
10. Governor may make such reserves inalienable.
11. Copies of grants etc to be sent to president.
12. Court to issue certificates of title.
13. Land to be surveyed before titles issued.
14. Certificates to be conclusive as to ownership.
15. Governor may sign certificates and affix public seal.
16. Rules may be made for registration of certificates and transfer.
17. Persons names in certificates may dispose of land described therein.
18. Governor may issue grants in exchange for certificates.
19. Duties to be paid on the sale of lands.
20. Mode of subdividing tribal rights.
21. Governor may at request of tribes make regulations and plans for settlement of native lands.
22. Regulations so made to be valid.
23. In such regulations, reserves may be made for public purposes.
24. Grants & c may be made for giving effect to such regulations.
25. Regulations may provide for the raising of money for public objects.
26. Custody of moneys so raised.
27. Reserves may be made for public roads.
28. Surveys may be made at request of natives.
29. Persons not to be liable to penalties for purchase &c after certificate issued.
30. Contracts before certificates issued to be void.
31. Manawatu Block excepted from the operation of this act.
32. Pending agreements for cession of territory to be completed.
33. Act not to interfere with the Land Claims Act.
34. Act not to interfere with the acquisition of land by Her Majesty.
35. Interpretation of term “native lands”.
36. Act to come into operation in districts proclaimed by governor.
37. Act to be reserved for the Queen’s assent.(3)
The Act was passed two years after a row over the Waitara block sparked the first Taranaki War, and after 22 years of squabbles over conflicting ownership claims by Maori over land. One group of Maori would sell an area of land and another group would appear, assert they were owners, and demand payment as well.
If the colonial government wanted “to extinguish all Maori land titles”, why did they enact a 37-clause piece of legislation which recognised Maori title, established courts to recognise such title, enabled those courts to ascertain and define Maori ownership, enabled the governor to make reserves and settlements to benefit Maori owners, and enabled the court to issue certificates of title to Maori owners.
A much simpler way to extinguish all Maori land titles could be by an Act of parliament saying just that – and the parliament of the day had the numbers to do it.
Despite the numerous complaints about what was wrong with the Native Land Court, it lives on as the Maori Land Court, and many Maori land owners throughout the country were able to sell their land and do well out of it. Maori land-owners were not dragged to the court to be divested of their land. They lined up for court sittings. A number of tribes opted not to sell and set up land-ownership trusts that survive and continue to pay dividends.
When pondering the intention of 19th century legislation, what is more reliable – the 19th century record or the 21st century Maori studies academic? The discrepancy between the assertions of an associate professor in a major university’s Maori studies department and legislation enacted 151 years ago raises questions about the reliability of Keenan’s writings -- and teaching.
1. Maori focus on constitutional moves, Wanganui Chronicle,March 16, 2013.
2. Witi's publisher in fresh plagiarism dispute, http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/books/3195561/Witis-publisher-in-fresh-plagiarism-dispute
3. Native Lands Act 1862. http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Mac02Comp-t1-g1-t18-g1-t24.html
at 8:25 PM