NZ Race Relations

Page 4 – The Second World War and Māori urbanisation

On the eve of the Second World War only 10% of Māori lived in urban areas, compared with almost 60% of Pākehā. The war changed this. The Manpower Act directed young Māori men (who were ineligible for the military) and women to work in essential industries, often located in cities. By 1951 the number of Māori living in urban areas had doubled. Within a generation of the war ending, 68% of Māori lived in urban areas. As a consequence Māori and Pākehā were interacting on a more regular basis.

Native to Māori

In 1947 Peter Fraser’s Labour government officially replaced the generic word ‘native’ with Māori. This change was more than symbolic. It clearly acknowledged the unique place and identity of Māori in New Zealand.

For a graph showing Māori urbanisation between 1926 and 1986 go here.

Māori migrants to the city faced many difficulties, not least the separation from whānau and traditional structures of support. There were fears that younger Māori would ‘lose their way’ in the city. Some Māori attempted to bring traditional institutions into the cities by establishing urban marae. With Māori from a variety of areas moving into town, tribal distinctions became blurred.

Māori also faced problems acquiring suitable housing. Some Pākehā landlords were reluctant to rent properties to Māori tenants. They feared that properties would become overcrowded through chain-migration – this was a familiar process where whānau moved to properties established by the first wave of family migrants. Older inner-city housing was often all Māori could afford at a time when suburban development was seeing more people move to the suburbs (this trend would later be reversed as the middle-classes moved back to the inner city to restore these older houses to their former glory).

Leadership concerns

The Second World War stripped both the Pākehā and Māori communities of many potential leaders. Making matters worse for Māori were the deaths of Ngata in 1950 and Te Puea in 1952. There were few obvious replacements.

One response to this changing world was the formation in 1951 of the Maori Women’s Welfare League (MWWL). The League’s first President, Whina Cooper, would become one of the most significant leaders of her generation. The MWWL tackled the issues of Māori housing, health and education. By the mid-1950s it had 300 branches, 88 district councils and over 4000 members.

English was the language of urban New Zealand – at work, in school and in leisure activities. Māori children went to city schools where Māori was unheard of in teaching programmes. The enforced contact of large numbers of Māori and Pākehā for the first time created inevitable stresses. Te reo Māori was one of the first things to suffer. The number of Māori speakers began to decline rapidly. By the 1980s less than 20% of Māori knew enough te reo to be regarded as native speakers.

The Treaty of Waitangi and protest

In 1968 a handful of Māori elders boycotted Waitangi Day in protest over the 1967 Māori Affairs Amendment Act. While for some Pākehā this seemed a new development, Māori protests over the Treaty of Waitangi had a long history. Hōne Heke’s attack on the British flag in the mid-1840s could be seen as the first such protest. Te Puea and the Maori King, Korokī, both boycotted the centennial commemorations in 1940 in protest over land confiscations. Ngāpuhi displayed red blankets in protest at the compulsory acquisition of what had been deemed 'surplus lands' in Northland. Even Ngata, the Māori ‘voice of reason’ for many Pākehā, reflected: ‘in retrospect what does the Maori see? Lands gone, the power of chiefs humbled in the dust, Maori culture scattered and broken.' So, when members of Ngā Tamatoa (The Young Warriors) began chanting and performing haka during Waitangi Day ceremonies in 1971 some saw it as a continuation of a well-established tradition of protest. As a consequence some non-Māori began to question the value of celebrating a day which appeared to be the source of so much division.

The National Party dominated politics after the war, holding power for all but six years between 1949 and 1984. Until the election of Rex Austin and Ben Couch in 1975, National had no Māori MPs. This situation meant that the influence of Labour’s four Māori MPs was severely reduced. National adopted a largely assimilationist position and during the 1960s was heavily influenced by the findings of the Hunn Report. Released to the public in 1961, this Report recommended that New Zealand move beyond ‘assimilation’ to ‘integration’, whereby New Zealanders would become one people through mixing the two cultures. Bringing Māori into the so-called ‘modern world’ would solve many of their social and economic problems. Ralph Hanan, the Minister of Maori Affairs for much of the 1960s, argued that Māori and Pākehā had been divided by what he called ‘outmoded and racially based legislative distinctions’.

Many Māori leaders condemned the report. They had not been consulted during its preparation and argued that it was assimilation by another name. National was also increasingly guided by the views of the New Zealand Maori Council, created in 1962, which was dominated by conservative Māori leaders.

National consistently targeted fragmented Māori land ownership which it believed held Māori economic development back. A number of laws were passed which forced Māori to sell uneconomic blocks to those in a position to better develop the land. Many Māori bitterly opposed these laws and policies which they saw as a resumption of the old policies of ‘grabbing’ Māori land.

Hanan was succeeded as Minister of Maori Affairs by Duncan MacIntyre. Like Coates many years earlier, MacIntyre was a Pākehā who had an affinity for Māori. On the surface the 1971 Race Relations Act was seen by MacIntyre and the National government as an important step forward in race relations. Discrimination on the basis of race was outlawed and a Race Relations Conciliator was appointed to investigate any such allegations. Any hopes the government had of gaining Māori approval for this act were quickly dashed. Opponents argued that the new legislation was an attempt by the government to avoid its obligations to Māori via the Treaty of Waitangi.

Labour returned briefly to power in 1972 under the leadership of Norman Kirk. His cabinet included two Māori, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan and Matiu Rata, who became the first Māori Minister of Maori Affairs since Apirana Ngata. The Kirk Labour government adopted a policy of multiculturalism. Some Māori argued that this undermined their place as Tangata Whenua. Many Pākehā favoured the notion of ‘one’ New Zealand. In an attempt to unite the nation, the government made Waitangi Day a public holiday and changed its name to ‘New Zealand Day’. The move proved unpopular. Debate intensified as to the place or relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi to modern New Zealand. A number of Māori organisations maintained that ‘honouring the Treaty’ was the only way forward for New Zealand as far as race relations were concerned. Opponents argued that the Treaty divided the nation. National changed New Zealand Day back to Waitangi Day in 1976.

A key Labour initiative was the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 which established the Waitangi Tribunal as an ongoing commission of inquiry to hear grievances against the Crown concerning breaches of the Treaty. Initially the Tribunal was limited to grievances that occurred after 1975. This changed in 1985 when the Tribunal was empowered to investigate Treaty claims dating back to 1840. The Tribunal could make findings of fact and recommendations only, not binding determinations.

The National Party led by Robert Muldoon won a landslide victory in the 1975 general election. While terms like assimilation were no longer used, National pushed a message of ‘we are all New Zealanders’. Issues relating to the Treaty and in particular the loss of Māori land became the focus of race relations.

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'The Second World War and Māori urbanisation ', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 28-Jan-2021

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Posted: 15 Mar 2012

this website/page is amazing because its really easy to understand what happens during ww2 and its also better than just listening to the teacher when this website helps even better it has all details that a historian would deffinitly love to use or read :)
thanks alot for the help i really neede this page for my 11history class to help with my NCEA LEVEL ONE
thanks keep up your great work :) :)