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Māori and the Queen

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The late Gavin McLean, former Senior Historian with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, looks at Queen Elizabeth's reign. 

In 1953-54 the New Zealand government tried to portray the country as having the best race relations in the world, by which Cabinet ministers meant that Māori participated fully in the country’s British way of life. Conservative politicians saw Māori ceremonies as little more than colourful sideshows. Māori leaders had to struggle to add Waitangi to the tour, allocate adequate time for the visit to Rotorua and for the royal couple to call at Tūrangawaewae, the marae of the Māori King at Ngāruawāhia.

Only on the morning the car passed the turnoff to Tūrangawaewae did officials consent to a brief detour; the Queen and the Duke stayed a mere 17 minutes, but much longer than the three minutes officials had grudgingly conceded.

Yet, as Jock Phillips observed, the nature of the grievances showed the limits of the disputes between European New Zealanders and Māori. Māori ‘were primarily concerned to express their loyalty to the Crown and to win acceptance as New Zealand citizens.’ They were just as enthusiastic about the tour as other New Zealanders.

Many Māori felt they had a special relationship with the sovereign through the Treaty of Waitangi. From colonial times they had sent delegations to Britain to seek royal support. Each time they were deflected by imperial officials.

[Image of 1995 visit]
The Queen meets the Māori Queen, Dame Te Arikinui Te Ātairangikaahu in 1995.

From the 1960s, gains in education, a reinterpretation of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and other new social opportunities led to a Māori renaissance. Māori activists joined the growing minority of New Zealanders challenging the old ideas of assimilation and conformity. On several occasions protesters used public events such as Waitangi Day celebrations to make their points.

In 1990 at Waitangi, a woman threw a t-shirt at the Queen while others heckled official speakers. While more Māori were likely to welcome the Queen at such events, the consensus of 60 years ago has been eroded.   In 2011 newly re-elected MP Hone Harawira was briefly thrown out of Parliament by the Speaker for swearing allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi in preference to the Queen.

In 1995 the Tainui people agreed to a Treaty settlement. In addition to compensation for land taken after the New Zealand Wars, they had wanted a formal apology from the Queen. ‘Such an apology would be constitutionally unique’, Prime Minister Jim Bolger recalled. ‘Her Majesty is not in the habit of apologising for the misdeeds of those who acted in the Crown’s name.’ So the politicians devised a solution that met the needs of Tainui and of Buckingham Palace. Once the Bill containing the formal apology was passed through the House, the Queen, who was visiting New Zealand for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, gave the Royal Assent by signing the legislation herself instead of the Governor-General.

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 13 June 2017

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