Bicultural Dreams & Visions (3)


NZ Wars
New Zealand Wars
Hone Heke cuts down the flagstaff on Flagstaff Hill at Kororāreka.

Picture courtesy of

In the mid to late 1840’s the influence of the humanitarians (Clapham saints) in the British Colonial Office began to decline and was replaced by a much less sympathetic view of indigenous rights.

The arrival of Bishop George Selwyn in 1841 and Governor George Grey in 1845 would prove to be catastrophic for Maori. and the vibrant Maori Christian movement. Much has been written about Governor Grey. While it is unfair to brand all his dealings with Maori as destructive, it can truly be said that his leadership deeply corroded the good will and trust that had existed between Maori and Pakeha at the time the Treaty was signed.

Bishop Selwyn was a much more complex character. At a time when most English were ardent racists and slavery was still practised in many places, he was not a racist. But as many of his day he seems to have held the view that natives were like children, and should be cared for but should not be trusted with positions of responsibility. Therefore he spoke out for the rights of Maori and opposed some of the more unjust land purchases that led to the NZ Wars. But he was slow to ordain and empower Maori within the Church and encouraged CMS missionaries to focus on ministering to the arriving settler population rather than Maori. This was at odds with the approach of the CMS under Henry Williams and in 1849 he wrongly dismissed Williams from the CMS, treating him quite harshly. Most damning and destructive of all was the Bishop’s active support and involvement in the invasion of the Waikato in 1863-64. As chaplain of the British Forces, his presence on the frontlines was understandably interpreted as an act of solidarity with the colonists and the horrors their army inflicted.

There is little doubt that the Church was in many ways complicit in the injustices Maori experienced. While many Pakeha missionaries spoke up for Maori and pleaded their case against a tidal wave of injustice, there were others who stood by and said nothing, abdicating their calling, and becoming viewed by Maori as agents of British colonialism.

This continued into the 1880’s. Then on 5 November 1881 the Colonial Government invaded the pacifist, peaceful, open, Christian village of Parihaka, committing atrocities and imprisoning and enslaving people without trial. Over 40 years had passed since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Since that time Maori had been betrayed, disregarded, overwhelmed and decimated. Vast tracts of their land had been stolen or “confiscated” through the courts. This had escalated into the NZ Wars in the 1860’s. But what happened at Parihaka, was a crime against humanity, a gross violation of human rights. The dream of a genuine partnership between two peoples was in ruins.

The biggest casualty of all this was the responsiveness of Maori to the Gospel. Tragically today many Maori still view Christianity as the religion of the oppressive Pakeha. While some of this is understandable, much of it has been the result of a re-writing of History (often by Pakeha historians). Henry Williams has been disrespected and his motives have been misrepresented. The role of the missionaries has wrongly been painted as destructive to the cause of Maori and the promise of a genuine bicultural partnership.