2 Apr 2024

Mata Season 2 | Episode 5: Scott Hamilton on segregation and commentators Tina Wickliffe and Shane Te Pou

From Mata with Mihingarangi Forbes , 5:00 pm on 2 April 2024

Historian Scott Hamilton on Aotearoa’s dark history of segregation and panelists Tina Wickliffe and Shane Te Pou discuss opposition to affirmative action, the surge in anti-trans protests, the government’s 36-point plan and we rate our new Māori MPs.

Many people find it "hard to believe" segregation existed in New Zealand, but it was widespread for decades, a historian says.

Scott Hamilton told Mata many people were familiar with the policy of assimilation, which existed in the 20th century. One of its most infamous examples was of Māori only being allowed to speak English at schools.

However, New Zealand had a "blend" of policies of segregation and assimilation right up until the mid-1900s.

Some of the most severe segregationist measures were introduced amid the smallpox epidemic of 1913, which began in the Māori community and was blamed on Māori.

"People were limited to their villages, they were cordoned off, they were only allowed to travel if they had a vaccination pass - and it was very difficult to get vaccinated," Hamilton said.

"There was a beginning, really, during the smallpox epidemic, of a pseudo-scientific idea which linked supposedly low standards of Māori hygiene to disease... it becomes a justification for all sorts of restrictions."

Pākehā pressured local government and businesses to adopt segregationist polices and Māori were banned from, or restricted in their use of, public toilets, pools, hotels and bars.

Hamilton cited a famous historical photo of the King's Arms bar in Auckland, which put up a sign saying 'natives will not be served here'. 

Tangata whenua were not the only group targeted - Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern communities were also the victims of segregationist policies at different times, as were Jewish refugees in the 1940s.

In 1918, Indian residents of Hamilton complained to their mayor because all the barbers in the city were refusing to cut their hair, saying they posed a hygiene risk.

Hamilton said the Māori and Pasifika students' spaces at Auckland University - which drew ire from deputy prime minister Winston Peters and ACT leader David Seymour last week - developed out of segregation suffered by those groups.

"They were unable to use their language on campus, there was nowhere they could go to express their culture, they were barred from pubs where Pākehā students could go and drink."

There were reserved spaces for many different groups at universities, like international students, he said. They did not constitute segregation and were respected, rather than enforced.

"It's not like there's a cop at the door."