The greatest mechanism ever for solving the Maori land "problem"? : a study of the Stout-Ngata Native Lands and Land Tenure Commission, 1907-1909.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In 1907 the Liberal Government was under immense pressure to buy more Maori land throughout the North Island and it appointed a Commission comprising Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout and Apirana Ngata, to decide what land was 'excessive' to Maori needs and could be opened up for Pakeha settlement by way of lease or sale, and what areas Maori should be allowed to keep for their own occupation. The Stout-Ngata Commission operated over a two year period from 1907 through to the beginning of 1909. By conducting their own research as to the amounts of land still left in Maori control, and convening sittings which the Maori owners were invited to attend, the Commission attempted to establish how much Maori land was still needed for their own occupation, and how much could be made available for public settlement. Throughout this whole period it was the stated hope of both Stout and Ngata to 'do justice to the Maori', The sittings were conducted throughout various districts and counties in the North Island; proceedings were often held on local marae, community halls, and in the Courthouse. What was special about the work of the Commission more so than any other Government Commission which had investigated Maori land, was the way in which Stout and Ngata went right in amongst the people, and enabled Maori to freely express their concerns about the land, and present ideas as to its future utilisation. The relationship between the Commissioners and the iwi living in each region was unique, and was often based around Maori concerns which had been shaped as a result of specific circumstances surrounding each region's history. However, the primary wish of all Maori who gave evidence to the Commission was their desire to maintain control over their lands. In this respect the people were vehemently opposed to any further sales of their lands, although many were prepared to consider leasing some of their blocks. Stout and Ngata heard evidence from Maori over the two year period, which was interspersed by their writing of reports and presentation of their official recommendations. It became apparent soon after the release of their first General Report, that the Commission was not just going to be another Crown agent for acquiring 'surplus' Maori land, and instead their investigations focused on the needs of Maori. Stout and Ngata became particularly well known for the encouragement they gave Maori to farm their own lands, rather than forcing them to give it up for Pakeha settlement. In relation to this, their primary recommendation identified that the Crown had a duty to provide Maori with sufficient education and financial support in order to allow the people to begin prosperous farming operations like their Pakeha counterparts. This recommendation was largely ignored by the Government, until twenty years after the Commission, when Ngata was able to implement the policy which he and his colleague Sir Robert Stout had vigorously proposed during their tenure as Commissioners from 1907-1909.