MAORI LAND TENURE
The Modern Era
The turn of the twentieth century saw the Maori people and their lands at the crossroads, in more senses than one. In so far as they were wishing to use their heritage in competitive agricultural production their hopes were being thwarted through lack of finance. Maori land legislation, which had pursued its own tortuous course independently of the vicissitudes of the Maori people for some 40 years after the Native Rights Act of 1862, appears to have done little besides ensuring that Maori land sales were at once simple and legally valid. In none was the settlement of the Maori upon his own land a primary consideration. The crux of the matter was that the so called “communal title” had proved to be an effective instrument for purposes of sale, but never for raising development loans. “Incorporation” was an early remedial device for overcoming this basic difficulty, i.e., the creation of a body corporate by a majority of owners in a title, acting through a committee of management, to raise funds on the security of the land for its development.
“Consolidation”, like “incorporation”, was another measure intended to overcome the handicaps inherent in Maori land titles. The method eventually adopted in the East Coast, Bay of Plenty, King Country, and North Auckland districts, was to gather into as few locations as possible the interests of individuals which had been scattered by their unrestricted succession to the interests of both parents. Fragmentation of Maori land titles was, and still is, the inevitable outcome of requiring none other than genealogical evidence to support a claim to an interest in a tribal estate.
In each consolidation scheme the opportunity was taken, first, to clear all encumbrances (legal and survey fees, unpaid rates, etc.) and, secondly, to make the new consolidated holdings conform to the demands of agriculture in regard to optimum size, access, water supply, and so forth. Judicially and socially the measure had to overcome some inertia to begin with, but as its positive consequences were seen and appreciated so it gathered momentum. By and large it enabled the closest approximation to be reached to individual or at least to compact family ownership in tribal land.
Statutes passed in 1903, 1906, 1909, and 1912 indicated a growing appreciation by the Legislature of the Maori need of aid in order to help himself. Enactments of these years made finance, at least, more readily available to the Maori, although prejudice against his titles died hard. Yet again, on the Maori side, many were deterred from involving themselves with mortgages, and of those who actually found assistance not a few contrived to do so without committing their land.