Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata (1874-1950) was a Maori leader, politician, and scholar who inspired improvements in official policy toward the Maori people in New Zealand between 1905 and 1934.
Apirana Ngata was born on July 3, 1874, at Kawaka, the eldest son in a family of 15 children. He was educated at the Waiomatatini Maori School and Te Auta College, an Anglican school for Maori at Hawke's Bay. A scholarship took him to Canterbury University College, where he specialized in political science, and in 1893 he became the first Maori to graduate from the University of New Zealand. He received his master's degree the following year, and 2 years later he took his bachelor of laws degree and was admitted to the bar.
Ngata practiced for a few years as a lawyer, but having resolved to devote himself to improving the position of his people, he became travelling and organizing secretary of the Young Maori party, formed by former pupils of Te Aute College with the aim of securing legislation that would directly benefit the Maori people. In 1905 he was elected to Parliament as a Liberal and retained a seat for 38 years. He represented the Maori in Sir Joseph Ward's government (1909-1912) and was minister of native affairs in Ward's next government (1928-1930) and in George Forbes's government (1930-1934).
Ngata was a significant influence on the thinking of the European population about Maori affairs. He was a good speaker, and his personality helped to make him a remarkably successful raiser of money for community welfare. He was a powerful exponent of Maori language, culture, and traditions, and he stimulated popular interest in Maori history and problems. He campaigned for equal opportunity for the Maori in education and sports, but his greatest effort was given to land settlement and development and the attempt to assist Maori farmers to be more efficient without affecting detrimentally Maori communal life or customs.
The Native Land Settlement Bill of 1929 was in large measure a personal triumph for Ngata, though its effectiveness was limited by the onset of the worldwide economic depression and the financial difficulties that went with it. Ngata was perhaps inclined to favor his own tribe, the Ngatiporou on the east coast of North Island, and to be somewhat careless as an administrator. He pushed ahead with his schemes without adequate support from government departments, ignored official regulations, and took no precautions in regard to the financial implications.
Irregularities arose, and the auditor general's report in 1934 drew attention to them. A royal commission was appointed to investigate the whole question of native land settlements and reported unfavorably on Ngata's methods, especially his management of public money intended for Maori land development. There was no evidence that Ngata had benefited personally from his administration, but he felt obliged to resign his office, and he finally left Parliament in 1943.
Ngata continued as a member of the senate of the University of New Zealand and served on the Maori recruiting committee in World War II. He was president of the Polynesian Society for 9 years, encouraged ethnological research, wrote extensively about the Maori, and made a collection of Maori songs and chants. One of his last tasks was to supervise the revision of the Maori Bible. He was knighted in 1927 and died on July 14, 1950.
Ngata contributed to the discussion of the Maori situation in I. L. G. Sutherland, ed., The Maori People Today (1940). Eric Ramsden, Sir Apirana Ngata and Maori Culture (1948), should also be consulted.
Na to hoa aroha = From your dear friend: the correspondence between Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck, 1925-50, Auckland: Auckland University Press in association with the Alexander Turnbull Library, Endowment Trust, and the Maori Purposes Fund Board; s.l.: Distributed outside New Zealand by Oxford University Press, 1986-1988.