The first nation-wide YMLC was held in 1939. Others followed in 1959, 1970, and 1977. In addition, many regional YMLCs followed up on these national conferences. The 1939 conference was initiated by the Institute of Pacific Relations at its Yosemite Conference in 1936. In the course of research for a symposium on 'The Present Position of the Maori People', Sir Apirana Ngata, Dr I.G.L. Sutherland, Professor H. Belshaw, and other leaders discussed the desirability of holding such a conference, and it was organised through the National Council for Adult Education.
As Belshaw stated,
'During visits to Maori
communities extending over several weeks (in 1938) I found certain definite
impressions. The economic and social problems of the Maori people were difficult
and serious and their solution was of profound importance to both Maori and
Pakeha. It seemed doubtful whether
their real significance in relation to the future of
both peoples was understood by either of the two races.
Maori communities were isolated
from each other and from main centres of European population. As a result, it
was not easy for Maori communities to view the problems in their broader,
national aspects, and mutual understanding between Maori and Pakeha was
lacking.' (YMLC Proceedings, 1939)
The agenda for that first YMLC in 1939 covered Economic
Conditions, (including Land Resources and Land Use, Work Other Than Farming, and
Expenditure), Housing and the Home, Health, The Community and Education. Back
then, it was thought that if free discussion could be stimulated so as to bring
home the importance and generality of the problems, it might provide an
incentive to the exercise of leadership. Such a demonstration of their capacity
to discuss problematic conditions with sincerity and intelligence, might
encourage older generations to assist them and give them scope for the
development and exercise of their talents. The tradition begun in 1939 under the
tutelage of Sir Apirana Ngata and others aimed at examining the questions of
adjustment and development in rural Maori communities. The major questions of
the day were centred on land use and development. However diminishing land
resources and a rising population led to the consideration of off-farm
employment opportunities and rural to urban relocation as possible solutions.
The 1959 YMLC followed the same format as in 1939. Economic
conditions related to land use and land development remaining a focal point of
the conference. Accordingly, elders for whom land issues were a focus, were well
represented at the 1959 conference. Although the urban migration of Maori as a
solution to the economic depression of rural life had begun during World War II,
and took hold in the late nineteen-forties and the nineteen-fifties, the
magnitude of the problem related to urban adjustment took some time to manifest
itself. At the 1966 census almost 50% of the Maori population was to be found
living in urban places. In view of the dislocation accompanying the growth of
urbanism as a way of life for Maori, it was felt that another young leaders
conference with urbanisation and urban life as its central theme was needed, and
the NZ Maori Council successfully proposed just such a YMLC for 1970.
The 1970 YMLC differed from its precursors in several respects.
At all YMLC there was a wide social range represented, but
especially at the later two in 1970 and 1977, where, besides kaumatua, there
were teachers, clerics, other professionals, farmers, artists, gang leaders,
students, labourers, and unemployed.
Now in the 21st century, and 23 years since the last YMLC, many of the issues relating to Maori land use and development remain unresolved, although there is now a wider range of development possibilities than previously. Despite an increase in Maori-held wealth over the last few decades, the level of land-based wealth per capita has been depleted greatly by continuing land alienation and population increases.
Neither have the urban adjustment problems of the
mid-century disappeared, even though we have become essentially an urban people
(80% of the Maori population now lives in urban places). To these geographically
orientated rural/urban issues have been added others which relate to identity,
social dislocation, poverty, and the widely held perception of yawning gaps in
access and attainment levels between Maori and main-stream New Zealand.
Nonetheless Maori society is much more diverse than ever
before. There is a wider range of vocational and social skills and expertise,
and a wider range of experience and life-style held by young Maori now than ever
before, and from which potential participants in the proposed 2001 YMLC may be
drawn. Generational, experiential and ideological differences have emerged, even
though the Maori population is still heavily loaded towards the youthful end of
the spectrum, (half of the Maori population is aged under 25 years).
In order to obtain as wide a
representation of young Maori as possible, key organisations throughout New
Zealand should be invited to nominate four delegates to attend the conference.
Nominating bodies should include
Authorities (such as are members of Maori Congress), Te Roopu Wahine Maori Toko
i te Ora, Maori Health League, Maori Wardens Association, larger Maori land
trusts and incorporations (such as the members of FoMA), major religious
denominations (such as Catholic, the Anglican bishopric of Aotearoa, Ratana,
Presbyterians, Methodists, Later Day Saints), gang leaders (such as Black Power,
Mongrel Mob, Storm Troopers), student unions in polytechnics and universities,
labour unions with significant Maori membership, other community organisations
(such as Te Kawariki, Maori Artists and Writers collective, Waitangi Action
Committee). The Ministry of Youth Affairs, Te Puni Kokiri,
and other central or local government
agencies deemed appropriate.
It is expected that contacts and exchange of ideas between
young people who are beginning to assume leadership roles will facilitate the
search for solutions and cooperation towards effective future action. There is
no doubt that there are substantial leadership skills in hand, it seems an ideal
time and action to bring these nascent leaders together now, as they are the
inheritors of future leadership roles in Maori society.
The purpose of having a wide range of
community organisations nominating delegates is to bring together as wide a
cross-section of young Maori men and women as possible to discuss the problems
confronting Maori today.