Comments on Draft Act.
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COMMENTS ON DRAFT ACT.
IT will be noticed that one of the principal features of the proposed measure is the throwing a large portion of the administration of its provisions on the Natives themselves, which will have a tendency to make it popular among them; it being a very prominent objection made to "The Native Laud Administration Act, 1886," that the Natives have no voice in fixing the price of their disposable lands. The appointment of Commissioners to defined districts, and their ! constant residence therein, would also be conducive to the establishment of greater confidence in the minds of the Natives than at present exists towards the Native Land Court officials, who are never resident in any district for a sufficient time to become acquainted with its natural features or its inhabitants.
The scheme of the Act is to permanently define and finally settle the Native Title to lands throughout the North Island. In order to accomplish this, the Commissioner to be appointed under the proposed Act would, in the first instance, have to fix the external tribal boundaries of his district with respect to other tribes and districts. On this question being completed, attention would be next directed to determining the position and extent of the lands claimed by each tribe within the district. Simultaneously with these operations would be carried out one of the most important duties devolving on a Commissioner, that is, the eliminating from the lands of each tribe the portions forming the subject of outstanding and incomplete purchases and leases between the Native owners and Europeans, or the Government, and bringing these to a satisfactory and just settlement; it being absolutely necessary to effect this in order to clear the way for sub-dividing the estates of each tribe into hapu holdings, and for the further classification of these under the heads of "reserved" and "disposable lands." It is contemplated to conduct all outstanding and incomplete land purchases and leases to an equitable conclusion by giving certificates to the purchasers and lessees in all cases where the transactions have been bona fide and fair as between the parties concerned, which will enable them to proceed with their negotiations, protect them therein, and, if required, partition the interests of the vendors and lessors from those of the dissentients to sales and leases. And as the law relating to such transactions has been of such a conflicting nature as to render it impossible to be carried out, or its provisions understood, it is intended, as far as possible, to clear up the difficulties and validate all agreements which have been made in good faith, whether the law has been strictly complied with or not.
As regards future dealings with Native Lands, the intention is to make these clear, safe, satisfactory to all parties, speedy, and final, and impossible to call into question on any point. Reserved Lands are, for the present, intended to be absolutely inalienable by sale or lease, and no power is given to remove these restrictions; and this has been done for several reasons, which it may be as well to allude to.
If Europeans and Natives are placed closely together on land, the result is invariably very unsatisfactory to both parties. Reserves ought therefore to be selected in as few and as compact blocks as possible, and the nearer they can be grouped together the better; and in determining the area, it should be borne in mind that Native cultivations are not as a rule permanent in their nature, but are made and occupied for a few years only, and are continued in one place until the soil becomes impoverished, when a fresh clearing is made; consequently the area of uncultivated land adjacent to Native setlements is always considerable, but, as they own large numbers of horses, cattle, and pigs, these "commons" are of advantage to them. It is possible, but not probable, that in another generation the Natives, having become more civilized, may adopt European methods of husbandry, and so require more land for that purpose than at present. Another reason for rendering reserved land inalienable by sale or lease is that there are instances where Natives owning large reserves have not sufficient land for their own cultivation and support, and although the extent of their property, which has been leased by the Commissioner, is large, the rents accruing therefrom are so small as to produce no adequate income. The history of the Native Reserves at Porirua, near Wellington, would be instructive in this respect.
In dealing with lands disposable by sale or lease, it must be remembered that this question has been heretofore beset with several difficulties. Numerous complaints are made by Natives that they have been great losers by the omission of their names from Certificates of Title, Memorials of Ownership, and Crown Grants, that, although acknowledged as owners of land, they have been deprived of their proper shares of purchase moneys and rents received by the vendors and lessors of it. The Europeans, on the other hand, complain of the insecurity of their titles and the enormous expenses they are put to in obtaining the signatures of Natives to deeds of conveyance and lease, and the constant dread, after the supposed proper execution of those Instruments of Title, that some defect or flaw will be searched out and taken advantage of by some unscrupulous person (Native or European), the outcome of which will be costly and protracted litigation. It is purposed to obviate these difficulties by promptly ascertaining and registering the titles of all the persons in each hapu owning land, vesting the same in Trustees, who have the power themselves to contract for the sale or lease of the land to any person, and to give an indefeasible title to it through a Commissioner. The interests of the whole of the Native owners are protected, as the money receivable on a sale or for rent, is payable to
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the Commissioner only, and can only emerge from the public account, when the Trustees have arranged for the equitable division of it among the various claimants. The European can enter into possession of the land from the moment he pays his money to the Commissioner. The Natives will have to submit to a reasonable deduction from the proceeds of any sale or lease for the purpose of defraying the expense of surveying their lands, and other costs of administration under the proposed Act. Both Native owners and European purchasers will be saved the enormous, and frequently unnecessary, outlay which has been heretofore incurred for surveys, as it is proposed to execute the surveys of the lands of each tribe and hapu as a whole, and not piecemeal or two or three times over, which has been customary in the past. The same applies to the proceedings of the Native Land Court, it only adjudicated on the Titles to a few blocks at a time, leaving large tracts untouched for future investigation, whereby the cost to the Colony, the Natives, and all concerned was materially increased without any corresponding advantage arising therefrom.
It will doubtless be argued by the opponents to the proposed scheme, that because the Government are intended to be placed on precisely the same footing as private persons in their dealings with Native Lands, the North Island will be deprived of its Land Revenue. In reply to this it may be stated, without fear of contradiction, that if the total public expenditure in the purchase of Native Lands, the payment of Land Purchase Officers, Surveyors, Crown Lands Departments, and Contingent, War, and Defence Expenditure were placed on the one side of the account, and the receipts from the disposal of Crown Lands in the North Island on the other side, the balance would be on the wrong side of the ledger. In the South Island, which cost a very inconsiderable amount to purchase from the Natives, very large revenues did accrue from Crown sales and leases of lands, especially in the Provinces of Canterbury and Otago, but such can never be the case here, the Natives now knowing the value of their lands quite as well as we do. Another point which will probably be raised is that disposable lands will get into the hands of speculators. There is, however, nothing to prevent the extent of any purchase being limited to a reasonable area, but in any case it is preferable for the land to pass into the hands of Europeans, who will utilise it, than to allow it to remain idle and unproductive in the possession of the Maoris. Again, it may be said, "it is stated that 'The Native Land Administration Act, 1886,' is very unpopular with both Natives and Europeans, how do we know that the proposed measure will be popular among the Natives, or be workable at all, and if it is feasible the expense will be too great?"
To this the writer replies that he has for several years past discussed this scheme with many of the most intelligent and influential Native chiefs in various parts of the Colony, and it has invariably been pronounced as being satisfactory and right in principle. As regards the practicable working of it, there can be no doubt so far as determining the tribal and intertribal boundaries is concerned. In 1867 the Hauraki district, extending from Cape Colville on the north to Te Aroha on the south, was a sealed book as far as acquiring Native land was concerned, and this was aggravated by the introduction of Hauhau fanaticism. Gold was discovered at the Thames in July of that year. The writer was then Civil Commissioner in charge of Native Affairs in this Province; it became his duty to enter into agreements with the Natives for the cession of their lands for gold mining purposes. There were four tribes (the Ngatitamatera, Ngatiwhanaunga, Ngatimaru, and Ngatipaoa) holding the lands, their possessions were mixed up and intermingled in every direction. Between Cape Colville and Te Aroha there were upwards of fifty disputed boundaries which all had to be arranged, before the lands could be thrown open for gold mining. Yet, although there were numerous other duties to perform in connection with a new goldfield, the whole of these disputes were thoroughly settled within less than eighteen months, without the intervention of the Native Land Court, and by one person only. It is true it took a much longer period to acquire and open up the country for gold mining on account of the land league and Hauhau proclivities of the Natives, but the fact remains that the boundaries were then finally fixed, and no question has since arisen about any of them. The Native Land Court has subsequently held numerous sittings, but these related to holdings within tribal boundaries. As to the expense of carrying the proposed Act into effect, it would probably require a Chief Commissioner and ten Commissioners for a period of two years to settle the whole of the Native titles in the North Island, when the number of such officers could be reduced to three. And, as an inducement to the speedy completion of the work, those who accomplished it with the greatest celerity, combined with efficiency, should receive the permanent Commissionerships.
If the title of the Natives to their lands was fairly and permanently defined and determined, and the present incomplete and outstanding transactions between the Government and the Natives, and the latter and private persons, were amicably and justly arranged, it would conduce to the settlement and prosperity of the whole colony, as it would give security for the investment of capital in the purchase and utilisation of Native Lands, and restore that confidence outside the Colony which has of late been so rudely shaken by our conflicting and deterrent legislature in that respect. And the Maoris, feeling that their real interests are consulted and conserved by allowing them the right to sell and lease their disposable lands according to their own pleasure, subject only to such restrictions as will be beneficial to themselves, and that their homes and cultivations are for ever secured to them and their families, would naturally cease from the excitement and state of unrest which has prevailed among them for the last thirty years, and become reconciled to us, and to the justice of our laws.
The problem of dealing with uncivilized races in such a manner as to win their confidence is very difficult, and with the very best intentions civilized people may offend them from want of knowledge of their habits, customs, and prejudices, and in no way easier than in dealing with, or for their lands; and it
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is impossible, in one or two generations, to bring them to conform to our views on those subjects. We are always too prone to consider our own methods are the best, and that we cannot learn anything from foreigners, but in dealing with Maori lands it might have been of service to all parties if we had taken the Natives into our confidence and conjointly arranged a system which would have been more consistent with their ideas, and not trammelled and hampered with formal Courts and conflicting legal enactments. As Great Britain and her Colonies are entering on extensive enterprises in various places in the South Pacific, it is to be hoped that the experience we have acquired in our dealings with Maori lands will not be thrown away or lost sight of in similar proceedings with those of the aborigines of Fiji, New Guinea, etc., and that the troubles and difficulties which have arisen in New Zealand, may, in a great measure, be provided against if not entirely averted.
WILSONS AND HORTON, PRINTERS, QUEEN AND WYNDHAM STREETS, AUCKLAND.