The Native Schools have an ambiguous place in New Zealand history. As an organ of the Pakeha state situated in Maori communities with an overt aim of assimilating Maori to European cultural habits, they have every appearance of a tool of oppression. To Ranginui Walker, in Struggle Without End, they were a potent weapon in the armoury of the coloniser. The Native Schools system evolved through various manifestations from George Grey's Education Ordinance of 1847 through to the 1867 Native Schools Act, but had little impact until given impetus by Donald McLean in the early 1870s. For McLean, a critic of the Government's handling of the Taranaki and Waikato campaigns, education was preferable to warfare as a method for tackling Maori resistance to colonisation and settlement. Since the 1950s, accounts have criticised the assimilationist goal of the schools, and in particular their role in the suppression of the Maori language.
Did Maori accept the precepts of assimilation? Why would Maori collude in their own oppression? They must have either understood assimilation to be something other than an arm of imperialist domination, as it is portrayed by Walker, or there must have been alternative reasons for supporting the schools and seeking European education.
This thesis will explore alternative explanations for the Native Schools, and especially the question of why Maori supported Native Schools in the nineteenth century. Two principal hypotheses are discussed. The first reviews an argument made first by John Barrington, that Maori recognised a need to acquire the English language, in order to participate .more effectively in Pakeha dominated economy and
political institutions. This is set alongside Ann Parsonson's argument that Maori society was characterised by competition for mana, to give a broad view of the location of Native Schools within the changing authority structures of late
nineteenth-century Maori society. The second hypothesis is that Maori, through the experierice of high mortality since the 1850s and the ongoing experience of epidemics, had come to accept the precepts of the fatal impact thesis. This held that
Maori were a 'dying race', which could only be saved through the intervention of Pakeha medicine, the acceptance of Pakeha cultural habits of dress, hygiene, housing and nutrition, and through participation in the Pakeha economy. To what extent did Maori accept assimilation, through the language of fatal impact? (From Introduction)