How did Maori get reparations in New Zealand?

The New Zealand government has spent decades painting a rosy picture of the country’s race relations. According to a Member of Parliament, the British had never “conquered or annexed” the nation, and the country’s native Maori were “still loyal to the British Empire”. But this pleasing performance was a false narrative.

In reality, the British plundered Maori lands throughout the 19th century and nearly wiped them out through displacement, disease and warfare. In 1840, the British and Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, an agreement that ultimately led to land loss and alienation – weakening Maori’s sacred relationship with the land and causing them to lose their cultural identity. In the 20th century, Maori were plagued by substandard housing; high incarceration rates and little wealth compared to non-Maori; and poor outcomes in health, education and job opportunities.

But things started to change in the 1970s. A Maori revival to reclaim their language and land grew in towns and villages. In 1975, Maori activists led the land march, which stretched from the top to the bottom of the country’s North Island and called on the British to stop taking Maori land.

The march was a turning point. Maori activism helped open the door to something unprecedented: British crown action. The crown established a tribunal that would investigate how the government had breached Maori sovereignty over Aotearoa (the country’s original Maori name) and provide Maori with redress in the form of cash and land settlements, or reparations .

Today the court investigates both modern cases of British illegality and those dating back to the Treaty of Waitangi. To take responsibility for the damage done to Maori, the Crown returned land, distributed billions of dollars in compensation to Maori tribes, and publicly apologized. By investing billions of dollars in this reparations program, New Zealand is leading the world with this kind of atonement and reparation. Maori tribes used the settlements to invest in business opportunities, health programs and education, and as a way to restore their relationship with the land.

This latest episode of Missing Chapter explores why these settlements are groundbreaking and why they are deeply complicated. For most tribes, they represent only a drop in the ocean of what has been taken. For others, the process has been long and fraught with pitfalls. The video also examines what the United States can learn about reparations for Native Americans and Black Americans who are descendants of former slaves in the United States.

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This series is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Canopy Collective, an independent initiative under the fiscal sponsorship of Multiplier. All Vox reporting is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Canopy Collective or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Canopy Collective is dedicated to ending and healing systemic racial violence. Multiplier is a nonprofit organization that accelerates the impact of initiatives that protect and promote a healthy, sustainable, resilient, and equitable world. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States.

Check out seasons one and two of Missing Chapter here. You can find this video and all Vox videos on YouTube.

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