Taranaki Maori cel­e­brate re­mark­able leader

Taranaki Daily News - - Opinion - DION TU­UTA

Kia ora koutou. By the time this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished, the 78th an­nual Po­mare Day will have passed, with cel­e­bra­tions at Owae Marae com­mem­o­rat­ing the life of a re­mark­able Taranaki leader.

For those of you not fa­mil­iar with Po­mare day, it is a sig­nif­i­cant event in the Taranaki Maori cal­en­dar, recog­nis­ing the life and work of Sir Maui Po­mare (Ngati Mu­tunga-Ngati Toa) who be­came the first Maori doc­tor, and was well known for his ef­forts to im­prove Maori health at a piv­otal time in Maori his­tory.

He be­came an in­flu­en­tial Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, and some­one who worked hard to com­bat the in­jus­tice of the Taranaki land con­fis­ca­tions.

Po­mare was born at Pa­hau Pa, close to the site of the present-day Onaero mo­tor camp. The young Po­mare was present at Par­i­haka when armed con­stab­u­lary in­vaded the coastal set­tle­ment in 1881. He was five years old at the time and lost a toe when his foot was trod­den on by one of the con­stab­u­lary’s horses. That would no doubt have served as a life­time re­minder of the in­jus­tice per­pe­trated against his people and per­haps spurred him on to achieve sig­nif­i­cant heights. He at­tended Te Aute col­lege around the same time as other fu­ture in­flu­en­tial lead­ers such as Api­rana Ngata and his re­la­tion Te Rangi­hi­roa (Peter Buck) It was at Te Aute that he be­came in­ter­ested in health.

From 1893 Po­mare trav­elled to the United States, where he stud­ied medicine, even­tu­ally grad­u­at­ing with an MD in 1899. He re­turned to Aotearoa in 1900 and was soon af­ter ap­pointed a Maori Health Of­fi­cer work­ing on na­tion­wide pro­gramme to im­prove Maori health out­comes.

In 1911 Po­mare was selected by Taranaki Maori lead­er­ship to ad­vance their case for the re­turn of their lands vested in the Pub­lic Trustee and per­pet­u­ally leased since 1892. Over 100 years ago Po­mare took up the cause of his tupuna by press­ing then Pre­mier Sir Joseph Ward to re­turn of Taranaki Maori land, recog­nis­ing the value of work­ing your own land.

In a let­ter to Ward in 1911, Po­mare urged the govern­ment to over­turn per­pet­ual leases and al­low Maori the right to use their own land. ‘‘And now we pray that no fur­ther leas­ing of our lands be con­tin­ued by the Pub­lic Trustee, and that our lands now fall­ing due, be re­turned to us, and that you, Sir Joseph, and the min­is­ters of your Cab­i­net, will seek some road by which our lands leased by the Pub­lic Trustee for all time be re­turned to us, as we re­alise that in or­der to avert extinction we must be­come ac­tive farm­ers, and not mere rent re­ceivers.’’

This work el­e­vated Po­mare into a po­lit­i­cal sphere and he was elected to Par­lia­ment in 1911 as an in­de­pen­dent mem­ber for Western Maori, be­fore join­ing the Re­form Party in 1912. He was ap­pointed a mem­ber of Cab­i­net be­fore be­com­ing Min­is­ter for the Cook Is­lands in 1916 and even­tu­ally Min­is­ter of Health in 1923.

Al­though he had been un­suc­cess­ful at bring­ing the per­pet­ual leases to an end in 1911, he con­tin­ued to push for jus­tice in re­gard to the Taranaki Maori land con­fis­ca­tions. His ef­forts, along with those of Sir Api­rana Ngata, re­sulted in the es­tab­lish­ment of the Royal Com­mis­sion on Maori Land Con­fis­ca­tions in 1926.

This his­toric in­quiry – known as the Sim Com­mis­sion, and its sub­se­quent re­port, found that the govern­ment’s prose­cu­tion of the war against Taranaki Maori in 1860 had been wrong and the con­fis­ca­tions un­jus­ti­fied. The com­mis­sion, chaired by Supreme Court Judge Wil­liam Sim, rec­om­mended an an­nual pay­ment of £5000 to a board set up to rep­re­sent Taranaki Maori – an en­tity which be­came the Taranaki Maori Trust Board.

Po­mare was knighted in 1922 and his con­tri­bu­tion to Taranaki Maori was sig­nif­i­cant. While he was ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful at over­turn­ing the per­pet­ual leases, his work and vi­sion con­trib­uted to the even­tual foun­da­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Parininihi ki Waito­tara In­cor­po­ra­tion.

His work es­tab­lish­ing the Sim Com­mis­sion brought pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity for the Crown’s wrong­ful con­fis­ca­tion of Taranaki Maori land, and pro­vided ev­i­dence for later gen­er­a­tions which re­sulted in the mod­ern-day set­tle­ments. These achieve­ments alone are note­wor­thy, but with­out doubt his most im­por­tant and en­dur­ing legacy was the con­tri­bu­tion to mod­ern Maori health which he, along with people like Ngata and Te Rangi­hi­roa brought about through changes that im­proved Maori in­fant mor­tal­ity rates and ar­rest­ing the de­cline of the Maori pop­u­la­tion.

For me, Po­mare stands as one ex­am­ple of the true great­ness that lies within Taranaki Maori and the an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of his life continues to pro­vide Taranaki Maori with in­spi­ra­tion and op­por­tu­nity to af­firm con­nec­tions with one an­other.

Mau­ri­ora.

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