Social Welfare Provision: The Case of the Maoris of New Zealand

The Maori ethnic group comprises of the native Polynesian people, who first settled in New Zealand more than 1000 years ago. The Maoris arrived in what is now known as New Zealand from eastern Polynesia in different waves, and over the centuries this ethnic group has developed a distinctive culture enriched with a unique language, mythology, crafts, and performing arts. With the arrival of the Europeans in the 17th century, most Maoris changed their way of life, and began to adopt some aspects of the western culture particularly after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), which enabled the two cultures to coexist. The current historical records indicate that New Zealand is a member of the British Commonwealth besides being part of the Polynesian triangle, which comprises of Hawaii and Easter Island. Furthermore, New Zealand is the largest by land mass (100,000 square miles) among the Polynesian Islands, and it includes the North and South main islands besides other smaller islands (Sachdev 1990). On the other hand, members of the European extraction are the majority (3.2 million inhabitants) in New Zealand followed by other minority groups such as the Maori, Pacific Islanders, Chinese, and Indians in the same order.

The official language in New Zealand is English, and the government including the political and judicial institutions shows an inclination to the British system of governance. Most importantly, New Zealand has made major strides in terms of implementing social welfare legislation over the years. For instance, the country adopted the old age pensions (1898), child welfare program (1907), social security (1938), and socialized medicine (1941). Furthermore, New Zealand is recognized as the first country to adopt universal suffrage for all women. Moreover, many stakeholders, including the central and local governments, private institutions, charitable organizations, and private citizens play a major role in providing healthcare services in New Zealand, but the government has the ultimate responsibility in terms of providing encouragement and financial support. As a result, the state owns 80 percent of all hospitals and subsidizes the remaining 20 percent (Sachdev 1990). Moreover, the government is committed to providing social welfare services to all citizens. However, as opposed to other citizens, particularly those of the European origin (Pakehas), the Maoris are distinguished from other citizens when it comes to social welfare provision. Differences between the Maoris and other citizens can be noted in the demographic characteristics, patterns of employment, socioeconomic status, housing, healthcare, education, family life, and crime rates (Metge 2004). This essay answers the question, how and why the Maoris were considered a special case in social welfare provision prior to the 20th century besides looking at how this status changed in the course of the twentieth century.

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The Maoris before the Twentieth Century

Before looking at how and why the Maoris were treated differently from other citizens in social welfare provision, it is important to consider their way of life prior to the twentieth century and their interactions with the Europeans. Basically, New Zealanders can be divided into the Maori and the Pakeha (European inhabitants). Therefore, the Maori ethnic group comprises of people with Maori ancestry and those with mixed ancestries. Furthermore, there is no generally acceptable definition of the Maori or Pakeha New Zealanders (Metge 2004; Sachdev 1990). However, it is generally recognized that the Maori are native Polynesian people, who migrated into New Zealand through several waves of migration from Hawaiki (the mythical land). Accordingly, the Maori settled in New Zealand and became agriculturists along with embracing the arts of warfare, building, weaving, and canoe construction. Prior to European invasion, the Maori society consisted of several tribes grouped according to common ancestry, and they were politically and militarily organized. In turn, the tribes consisted of a number of extended families (the basic units of social life). Therefore, at the end of the 18th century, it is estimated that there were approximately 100,000-300,000 Maoris in New Zealand. However, the population dropped significantly during the first century after European settlement due to wars and diseases, but it began to increase to about 404,778 (12.4 percent of the total population) as of 1986. According to the 1986 census, the Maori population was more youthful compared to the Pakeha considering that 73 percent of the Maoris were below age 30 and about 2 percent were above age 65 (Metge 2004; Sachdev 1990).

From a legal perspective, the Maoris or the Maori social group (as identified in the census) enjoy the same rights as any other citizen of New Zealand, which includes that they can vote and stand for any parliamentary position, they have equal rights to State social services, they can earn income and pay taxes, and they can also marry and interact freely with any citizen in New Zealand. However, the same legal provisions include different Acts and clauses, which draw major distinctions between the Maoris and the Pakehas, especially when it comes to social welfare provision and governance. Most importantly, there are different statutes governing the ownership and administration of land for the Maoris and the Pakehas. Furthermore, major differences can be noted in the constitutional bodies governing the Maoris and Pakehas besides the differences in parliamentary representation and community governments. Here, it is important to note that one half of these legal provisions reflect separation of organizations and procedures governing the Maoris and the Pakehas while the other half involves creation of special protection procedures and privileges for the Maoris (Metge 2004; Fleras 1986). Accordingly, most of the differentiating provisions or clauses can be attributed to the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed in 1840 in order to protect the Maoris from some seemingly detrimental practices in the western culture. For instance, the Maori leaders observed that drinking alcohol may impact their society negatively, and thus, they sought ways of preventing their people from drinking. Furthermore, some agreements, including the Treaty of Waitangi, were signed with the aim of offsetting the language barriers and other special difficulties, which were evident between the Maoris and the Pakehas.

One of the most recognized legal distinctions between the Maoris and the Pakehas involves the establishment of the Department of Maori Affairs, which protects the interests of the Maoris as opposed to other institutions, such as the Departments of Health, Justice, Employment, and Education. Here, it is important to note that the Department of Maori Affairs is charged with the responsibility of determining and improving the land titles belonging to the Maoris, developing and settling people in Maori land, providing houses for the displaced Maoris, and directly participating in Maori welfare activities (Metge 2004; Fleras 1986; Bourassa and Strong 2002). Moreover, the department helps the Maoris to apply for government subsidies besides helping them out in land courts and providing them with important information through the print media in their own language. On the other hand, it can be argued that the aim of the distinctions between the Maoris and the Pakehas in terms of social welfare provision was to protect the Maori culture. Along this perspective, it is important to note that New Zealanders agree that the Maori culture has maintained its attributes and meaning over the years thanks to the Treaty of Waitangi and other agreements, which sought to ensure that the Maori and European cultures coexisted. Generally, the Maori culture is taken to mean the distinctiveness of the Maori language and arts or crafts including action songs, painted scroll-work, weaving, wood carving, and reed panels. Furthermore, the Maoris recognize the significance of customs, earth ovens, carved meeting-houses, observing the tapu, and mourning wakes as being part of their culture (Metge 2004). However, despite the efforts made in preserving the Maori culture, various changes, losses, and most importantly, Europeanization have had a negative impact, and as a result, watered down the culture in general.

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The Maoris in the Twentieth Century

The status of the Maoris as a special case in social welfare provision changed in the course of the twentieth century in different aspects. First and foremost, it is generally acceptable that despite the efforts made to protect the Maoris against the seemingly detrimental practices in the European culture, the Maori culture and the Maori people’s welfare were eroded much faster than expected. In fact, according to Labrum (2004), the Maoris were recognized as the most highly urbanized native population in the world in the twentieth century. Here, it is worth noting that in 1936, about 17 percent of the Maori population inhabited the urban areas. However, in 1945-1966, about 25 percent to 62 percent of the Maori population moved to urban centers. One of the major contributors to Maori urbanization is the Second World War, which saw the establishment of the Maori War Effort Organization (MWEO). This implies that more and more youthful Maoris moved to cities and towns in search of jobs and rehabilitation packages (Labrum 2004; Tauri 1999). However, despite that the Maori urbanization posed eminent risks to the preservation of the Maori culture, it served as a catalyst for the expansion of welfare services for the Maoris. More specifically, over 11,500 Maoris were recruited into the building, manufacturing, and transport industries while approximately 17,000 Maoris entered the military. This meant that the Maoris had equal rights to access the same facilities and services provided by the Rehabilitation Department as opposed to earlier years. Therefore, throughout the 1950s, the Maoris, who were serving in the military, were entitled to trade training, farm loans, business rights, and higher education training services which were unavailable to most Maoris prior to the twentieth century. Most importantly, the Maori battalion excelled in the war particularly in parts of Africa and Italy, and hence, the Maoris were publicly recognized for their efforts in the war besides earning the right to access State assistance and social welfare services.

Furthermore, the government began to remove some of the differentiating clauses and provisions from statute books. For instance, in 1945, the government introduced the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act, which sought to eliminate the inherent inequalities regarding the payment of benefits. Moreover, the government took diverse steps in terms of substituting the word “Maori” in the statute books with “Native” as of 1947 besides making provisions, which allowed Maori women to drink liquor in public bars. Additionally, the proposed changes to liquor laws allowed men to purchase alcohol and carry it home for consumption (Metge 2004; Labrum 2004). Therefore, New Zealand embarked on a very important mission as far as social development was concerned by building an inclusive society whereby the basic rights were held by all members of the society regardless of whether they were Maoris or Pakehas. Ideologically, this move was supported by most New Zealanders considering that it contravenes the provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi, which was more of a social exclusion strategy (Humpage 2006). Here, it is worth noting that an inclusive society promotes policies, which are aimed at improving the lives of all citizens, overcoming social problems such as the lack of participation in social development, and giving all citizens the opportunity to activate their rights and responsibilities in the society. For instance, the establishment of the New Zealand Maori Council to define and advance Maori interests is a remarkable step, which shows the importance of allowing the citizens to activate their own rights and responsibilities. As a statutory body, which is independent of government control, the Maori Council allows State officials to have access to minority opinion while advocating for the inclusion of the minority in the central policy-making structures (Fleras 1986; Webster 2002).

The efforts of the New Zealand government in building an inclusive society can also be captured through the restitution of land to the Maoris. In fact, Bourassa and Strong (2002) indicate that the New Zealand government has made huge strides in terms of restituting land and other properties to the Maoris in the last few decades. The first land restitution laws were passed in 1975 thereby giving the government the opportunity to solve land grievances, which occurred prior to 1975. Further amendments were introduced to the restitution law in 1985 to enable the compensation efforts to address grievances going back to 1980. Overall, the land restitution law provided for the establishment of a land court commonly referred to as the Waitangi Tribunal, which was charged with the responsibility of addressing various tribal and individual claims to land. Starting the twentieth century, it can be argued that the government of New Zealand has made important steps toward addressing the social injustices committed against the Maoris particularly through the Treaty of Waitangi, which excluded most Maoris from social participation and integration. However, despite these efforts, most Maoris occupy the lowest social statuses in the contemporary New Zealand society. In fact, more than two-thirds of the Maori population occupies the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder compared to their non-Maori counterparts. Furthermore, according to the 1986 Census, about 14.9 percent of the workforce drawn from the Maori society was unemployed as opposed to about 5.8 percent of the non-Maori workforce. On the other hand, about 8.7 percent of the employed Maoris worked in the professional, managerial, technical, or administrative positions compared to about 21.7 percent of the non-Maori workers. Moreover, most Maori families make the lowest annual income, which cannot allow them to purchase their own homes. Additionally, most Maori children drop out of school without any formal qualifications, and thus, they most probably engage in criminal activities considering that about 5.7 percent of Maori youth aged 20-24 years are prisoners compared to about 0.7 percent of their non-Maori counterparts. Overall, these statistics indicate that both the government of New Zealand and the Maori society in general should take a proactive role in encouraging the Maori people to participate in social development by providing them with the necessary resources.

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The Maori people are the native Polynesian people who migrated into New Zealand over 1000 years ago, and settled to carry out agricultural and other art/craft activities. Prior to European settlement, the Maoris had a distinctive culture and system of governance. However, upon colonization, the European settlers signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maoris in order to ensure that the two cultures coexisted. These led to the treatment of the Maori people as a special case in terms of social welfare provision, which in other terms excluded them from social participation and integration. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the government of New Zealand embarked on various efforts aimed at establishing an inclusive society through dismantling some of the differentiating clauses from the statute books. These efforts led to greater access to jobs and rehabilitative facilities for the Maoris by mid-twentieth century. However, the foregoing discussions indicate that the Maoris still remain at the lowest statuses in matters concerning socioeconomic development, healthcare, education, and political involvement. As a result, a lot needs to be done in terms of social welfare provision for the Maori people of New Zealand.

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