Assimilation and colonial control
Let us once again delve into the past as Maori society was slowly terraformed through the introduction of new philosophies, religions and later legal discipline which would help to change the way that Maori perceived and interacted with the universe, as we were institutionalised and incorporated into the settler-state on lesser terms. The early settler power brokers understood exactly what they were doing.
The government aimed to control the process of social inclusion whilst monopolising its ability to classify and manage populations unequally. This would set the premise for the systematic decline of Maori authority, by replacing tribal communalism with reliance on European systems and structures. These policies levered on the fact that any acts of protest and insurrection against its authority would be suppressed.
Assimilation occurs by absorption into a dominant group by voluntary means or force, and occurs fully through: a) intermarriage and the complete loss of identity; or b) the maintenance of that identity, but living on the dominant group's terms and their ways of life.
The settler-government chose the latter and built parliament upon with the bricks of suppressing Maori constitutional and political aspirations, as Maori were brought into European society on the coloniser's terms.
During the 1860s Governor Grey's intention was to suppress Maori autonomy, assert Crown authority and secure land. Racial amalgamation became a critical success factor, which was enshrined as a primary government objective. One hundred years later it would evolve into a key performance indicator by which Maori progress and development was evaluated. The Hunn report became the touchstone Maori affairs policy for the second National government.
The Hunn report classified Maori into three groups. Group C had retained aspects of culture and language, and were described as the “most retarded”; “a primitive minority complacently living a backward life in primitive conditions”. Group A were “a completely detribalised minority whose Maoritangi is only vestigial”. Group B was described as the “main body . . . at home in either society and who like to partake in both”. Hunn's view was that Group C should be eliminated by raising them to Group B status, with Group A as the benchmark to be ascended to. In other words, the abandonment of our identity in favour of preferences imposed by the dominant group.
Returning to the primary issue, Grey's interest was the regulation of marriage, and he used the ability to shape the legal framework to erode the economic and social capital of iwi and hapu. Racial amalgamation was accomplished through regulations that tacitly subverted the reproduction of wahine Maori to support state aims and produce half-caste children.
At this time both women and wahine were considered to be tools of nation-building. Throughout this period, the most common marriages were between wahine Maori and European men. The policy framework of racial amalgamation was designed to recognise only the legitimacy of mixed marriages (Pakeha and Maori), but not marriages between exclusively Maori couples.
Wahine Maori also possessed land under tribal custom, unlike European women. Half-caste children would be raised as Europeans and transfer Iwi resources and land to colonisers, or expedite land transfer by making it easier to alienate by individualising titles — so, when wahine Maori entered into a “legitimate marriage” with a European male, their lands were forfeited to their husband through statute.
At the same time, legislative councillors such as Alfred Dommet argued that half-caste children should be taken from wahine Maori and given to the care of European women, and brought up in line with their “habits and usages”. This same logic would provide a convenient premise for the taking children from that time to the present day.