Left: A letter from the Speaker of the Legislative Council, John Richardson, to Governor Sir George Bowen. Right: A copy of the Mete Kingi Paetahi Election Act 1868. Archives reference: IA1 303/. Click on the image to enlarge or download.
The 1867 Māori Representation Act: An Act to Provide for the Better Representation of the Native Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Colony of New Zealand No. 47 established four Māori Members of the Lower House of Parliament. These members were elected in four Māori-only electorates – three in the North Island and one covering the entire South Island.
The Māori seats were elected on the basis of manhood franchise. Under the terms of the 1852 Constitution Act, the male franchise appeared almost universal but although there was no racial distinction and a very low property qualification, Māori were in effect disenfranchised because of their communal system of landholding. Māori possessed their land as iwi, hapū or whānau groups, rather than under individual title.
The Act granted Māori men universal suffrage twelve years before Pākehā men who faced property qualifications until 1879. However, the seats gave Māori far less representation in Parliament than the general seats gave Pākehā. Based on population Māori should have had 14 to 16 seats (Pākehā had 72 at the time).
The Act was passed during the New Zealand Wars, which had fuelled debate about Māori representation. It was hoped that establishing the Māori seats would reduce conflict between Māori and Pākehā in future. The seats were also seen as a way to reward iwi who had fought alongside the Crown.
It was intended that the Māori electorates would be temporary, lasting just five years. Many politicians expected that Māori would quickly adopt European customs of land ownership. However, this was not the case and the Māori seats were extended in 1872 and made permanent in 1876.
The first four Māori MPs took office in 1868. They were Frederick Nene Russell (Northern Māori), Mete Kingi Te Rangi Paetahi (Western Māori), Tareha Te Moananui (Eastern Māori) and John Patterson (Southern Māori). All four were from iwi that fought alongside the Crown or remained neutral during the New Zealand Wars.
The image above shows a copy of the Mete Kingi Paetahi Election Act 1868. Mete Kingi (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) worked as a Native Land Court assessor and without the passing of this Act he would have been ineligible to become a Member of Parliament. Dated 16 July 1868, the letter on the left is from the Speaker of the Legislative Council, John Richardson, to Governor Sir George Bowen.