Māori War Effort Organisation

Page 3 – Difficult times

Threats to continuation

When the Maori War Effort Organisation was established, the government had estimated that it would have a six-month life at a cost of £7,000. In 1943 Paikea asked that the timeframe be extended. He reasoned that as well as being essential to meet the country's wartime needs, the MWEO had a key role in post-war Maori development. It had given Maori a new confidence: government had allowed the Maori people to organise in their own way, to move into the mainstream of economic and social life, and to assume positions of leadership in the wider community. This last had probably been decisive in overcoming Maori suspicion of government at the start of the war. Other significant factors were government's promises that confiscation claims would be settled at the end of the war (particularly important in securing help from Waikato leader, Te Puea) and that there would be adequate rehabilitation for Maori servicemen.

Although government agreed to extend the MWEO's existence to the end of April 1944, it seemed that official acceptance of the principle of Maori leadership might not continue in peacetime. The Organisation's position was weakened by Paikea's death in April 1943.

Although Prime Minister Peter Fraser accepted responsibility as minister in charge of the Maori war effort, Eruera Tirikatene took on effective leadership of the MWEO. He was committed to fight for its survival but did not have Paikea's political influence. Maori recruits were sufficient for army purposes; the army could not justify keeping its MWEO recruitment officers; and Treasury recommended that official support for the organisation cease from 31 January 1944.

Conflict with the Native Department

The Native Department agreed. Its initial support had waned as the MWEO's activities steadily encroached on the department's functions. The jurisdiction of each authority was not always clear. Now the issue of post-war rehabilitation threw into relief the differing approaches to Maori welfare and advancement.

Rehabilitation Department insisted on equality of opportunity and treatment for Maori in housing, land settlement and training. But Maori returned servicemen, able to apply for rehab under the Native Department's auspices or under those of the Rehabilitation Department, found the Native Department wanting. Their aspirations for a new deal in the post-war Maori world joined with those of the Maori War Effort Organisation and the Maori MPs in a political battle over the future of Maori policy and the role of the Native Department.

How to cite this page

'Difficult times', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/maori-war-effort-organisation/difficult-times, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-May-2017