The Raphael Samuel History Centre is pleased to host Visiting Professor Michael Belgrave, a prizewinning public historian based in New Zealand. He will be speaking on History and Indigenous Rights in New Zealand at Birkbeck, University of London on 19 July at 6pm, MAL 153
From the 1970s Māori opposition to colonisation reached a crescendo, led by young, often well-educated Māori, who were highly critical of New Zealand’s historical scholarship, seeing it as perpetuating European cultural imperialism. In 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was established as a permanent commission of inquiry examining Māori grievances against the Crown, based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, on which British claims to sovereignty in New Zealand rested. When in 1985, its jurisdiction was extended to include any Māori claims against the Crown back to 1840, many historians looked forward to a new form of history, one that was Māori centred and exposed the critical experiences of colonisation. Some even hoped that this history would be developed according to Māori idiom, respecting Māori cultural approaches to the past and Māori forms of representing the past, based on oral history (whakapapa) and oratory (whaikōrero). Initially, more radical Māori opinion remained unconvinced, but over time criticism of the tribunal’s work became more muted.
Now, over thirty years on, the Waitangi Tribunal is coming to the end of its historical review colonisation in New Zealand’s past. From a critical agenda, the processes certainly highlighted not only the more dramatic incidents of Māori dispossession, war and the confiscation of Māori land, it has also provided a means for tribes across the country to demonstrate their very different experiences of colonisation, including those tribes whose traditions involved working alongside rather than against the Crown. Recovering and restating these histories has been part of a broader process of recognising distinct tribal identities in a range of public policy domains, from the provision of health care to heritage management.
Nonetheless, the much of the radical agenda of the 1970s remains unfulfilled. All of these new histories have helped incorporate Māori within mainstream constitutional and capitalist structures rather than replace them. This paper will explore the role of history in both advancing and containing Māori resistance since the1970s.
Michael Belgrave is a professor of history at Massey University in Auckland. He has worked with Waitangi Tribunal inquiries and settlements since the 1980s. His latest book, Dancing with the King (Auckland University Press, 2017) has been awarded the Ernest Scott Memorial Prize, for the best book on Australian or New Zealand History in 2017.