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Saturday, July 01, 2006

"National Question" Part 5, Harry Evison, Ngai Tahu Propagandist

Another member of Victoria University's Socialist Club to play a significant role in the Maori self determination movement was Harry Evison.

Harry Evison

An ex serviceman, Harry Evison studied at Victoria University in the late 40s and was prominent with Ron Smith in the Socialist Club. Reportedly, like most senior members of the club he was also active in the Communist Party.

In 1952 Evison completed his M.A. thesis on the History of Ngai Tahu land in Canterbury.

Evison became an academic, working at Canterbury and Otago Universities and at Christchurch Teachers College. He remained active in socialist politics, including CND and the anti Vietnam war movement.

Evison was a long time contributor and from 1984 to 1986, editor of the Christchurch based, socialist journal, NZ Monthly Review. Many of the articles he wrote for NZ Monthly Review were Maori, or Treaty of Waitangi themed.

His Marxist racial views are revealed in this quote from Monthly Review of August 1986, on race relations.

"NZ is sitting on a time bomb. It can be defused only by making common cause against the exploitation and injustice that modern capitalism increasingly inflicts on all its victims."

Around this time, Evison was a volunteer worker for the Ngai Tahu Trust board preparing the tribe's claim to South Island land.

In 1988, Evison, by then a consultant historian to Ngai Tahu, edited for the Trust Board, a publication of which 50,000 copies were distributed designed to "boost education on its land claim".

Evison on left

According to a Canterbury University press release from April 2006

A new book by Christchurch historian Harry Evison re-examines New Zealand's colonial history in the light of a number of original documents, particularly the ten Ngai Tahu deeds by which the Crown acquired Maori title to the southern half of New Zealand from 1844 to 1864.

The Ngai Tahu Deeds: A window on New Zealand history, published by Canterbury University Press, features handsome colour reproductions of these deeds and their plans, published for the first time.

Sixteen chapters of text provide a fresh account of the period and the key people involved. The author challenges some popular assumptions regarding the Treaty of Waitangi, the Wakefield scheme, Maori aboriginal title and the policies of Governor Grey.

Mr Evison said the need to clear away more than a century of error and misinterpretation of the Ngai Tahu deeds and “thus restore the integrity of the Ngai Tahu historical record” was his inspiration for writing the book.

Mr Evison has an interest in Ngai Tahu history that dates back to his 1952 MA history thesis on Canterbury Maoris, which was the first to attribute Maori destitution to land loss rather than to ‘psychological failure'. After teaching history and English in various schools and colleges he assisted Ngai Tahu at the Waitangi Tribunal and the Maori Appellate Court.

New Zeal This passage is significant. The Communist Party was always keen to push the idea that Maori problem's stemmed primarily from land loss. Hence the best way for guilty pakehas to help Maori, was to support Maori land claims and pay over hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

It would be interesting to know if the Thesis was written on Party orders, or if the theme simply arose from Evison's Marxist convictions. Whether either is true, the thesis certainly would have suited the "Party line".

Evison has been honoured for his work.

In 1989 he was awarded a Queen's Service Medal (Public Services) for his publications which fostered Maori-Pakeha understanding and in 1996 he received the honorary degree Doctor of Letters from the University of Canterbury.

His previous books include The Long Dispute: Maori Land Rights and European colonisation in Southern New Zealand and Te Wai Pounamu: The Greenstone Island, which won him the 1994 New Zealand Book Award for Non-fiction.


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