Māori War Effort Organisation

Page 2 – Origins

The MWEO is established

Unable to help with identifying Maori recruits, the Native Department referred the issue to the MP for Western Maori, Paraire Paikea, who chaired the Maori parliamentary committee.

Assisted by two other Ratana-Labour MPs, Eruera Tirikatene and H.T. Ratana, Paikea drafted a scheme for an organisation to handle Maori recruitment and war-related activities. He won Maori support by stressing the organisation's political potential. On 3 June 1942 the government approved the establishment of the Maori War Effort Organisation.

With all tribes involved, the MWEO provided a unique opportunity to demonstrate Maori capacity for leadership and planning. The country was divided into 21 zones and 315 tribal committees were formed; one or two members from each committee joined one of 41 executive committees. Committee work was voluntary and received no government funding. The Maori parliamentary committee insisted that the MWEO follow Maori custom in the selection of 20 Maori recruiting officers to help coordinate the activities of its committees. In July 1942 Cabinet agreed that this principle of tribal leadership should be extended to territorial units in New Zealand and to the Home Guard.

The expanding role of the Maori War Effort Organisation

As recruitment proceeded, the MWEO's work expanded in other directions. The tribal committees had a good knowledge of local conditions and were often required to advise on education, vocational training and better land use. A crucial part of their role was encouraging local food production.

Committees were given responsibility for registration of Maori— between 18 and 59 years of age and females between 20 and 30—for war-related service. They could enforce registration and recommend the type and locality of employment. The committees handled a range of issues: employer-employee relationships, absenteeism, tracing workers who used aliases to change jobs and other irregularities.

By 1943 in Auckland and Wellington several hundred young Maori women were living in the poorest city areas while working in hotels and restaurants. This problem came to the MWEO's attention and it recommended to government that Maori women welfare officers be appointed to the Native Department.