Confiscation before conquest
Long ago in a distant land, George Grey, the shapeshifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil. But foolish Māori warriors, wielding their magic taiaha, stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck, Grey's forces tore open the Waikato and massacred innocent non-combatants, churches were burned, and victims incinerated alive. Now many uri whakatipu must return to the past and undo the persisting structural racism of George Grey!
From the late 1850s, settlers began to challenge Māori for institutional and cultural dominance, resulting in the demographic and political marginalisation of Māori through legal conquests. The story of Maui fishing up Hahauwhenua could no longer explain why our land was lost, only the separation of Te Ranginui from Papatuanuku by Tumatauenga, the atua of war. To explain the shift in power many Māori turned to Christianity, and saw themselves like wanderers of Israel.
The New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 provided a package of measures by which the settler government crushed Māori independence. The Act provided the legal and arbitrary means to seize land and to recoup the losses through resettlement, defining the terms of confiscation where “any Native Tribe . . . Section . . . or any considerable number” . . . had committed acts of “rebellion against Her Majesty's authority since January 1863” could be subjected to the Act and their lands consequently confiscated from them.
But as Frederick Whitaker noted in a memorandum, “It will be observed that the provisions of the Act may be made to include lands belonging to persons who have not justly forfeited their rights by rebellion. In order to carry out the scheme, this is absolutely necessary.”
Vincent O'Malley has pointed out confiscation was not an afterthought or response to actions by Māori, but a critical factor for the success of the invasion. In July 1863 Grey had the confiscation plans prepared before the invasion plans. In Parliament, Henry Sewell highlighted the point of the Act was to “bring the bulk of the lands in the northern island . . . within the reach of colonisation” and the “detribalisation of the natives . . . to destroy . . . the principles of communism upon which their social system is based and which stands as a barrier in the way of all attempts to amalgamate the native race into our own social and political system”.
The Government now possessed the power to a) pass laws against rebellion and confiscate land from rebels, b) direct the constabulary to arrest rebels, and c) adjudicate on all cases of rebellion where a judge decided who was a rebel whether they were or not; and to take land from these defined rebels. Just like Lt James Cook, whoever can prove self-defence is the victim, and can then justify self-defence and punishment.
Confiscations in Waikato and Taranaki enabled the government to pay its forces, which was coupled with the unconcealed wish of many colonists and politicians to, as Cowan put it, wage “a war of extermination against the Māori”. As the Speaker of Parliament David Monroe said, “The Maories are a confounded nuisance: and will never be brought to reason until they get an uncommonly good thrashing.”
Throughout these dark times, iwi, hapu and whanau were in a constant state of unrest and unnatural tension. The wars for sovereignty on the west coast and in the north were followed by suppression of the Pai Marire uprising and Te Kooti's whakarau.