Government announces Land Wars Day at Turangawaewae
The return of the Rangiriri battlesite to Maori has been marked by news a national day commemorating the New Zealand Land Wars is just months away.
Work has been under way between iwi representatives and ministers of the Crown to see the more than 150-year-old battles between British forces and Maori formally acknowledged.
Four million dollars was set aside in the 2016 budget for commemorations and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, speaking at Turangawaewae Marae on Friday at the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Maori King Tuheitia's reign, said it was time to formally recognise the country's bloody past.
"It is on this day that we start the process, the recognition and the retelling of new histories that we haven't heard before," English said.
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More than 1000 people, including 700 students from a number of Waikato schools, crowded the marae at Ngaruawahia, north of Hamilton.
At the end of formalities, the children entertained the dignitaries in a move meant to symbolise the importance of future generations understanding their shared past.
The Land Wars are a neglected part history, English said. There is an obligation to tell the full story.
"That is why, with Te Ururoa [Flavell], the Government has been able to get the resource together so that we can find a date, a time for a commemoration day," he said.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said the interest in how the New Zealand wars are remembered "has never been greater".
She formally vested the Rangiriri battlesite and the adjacent Te Wheoro Redoubt into Waikato-Tainui ownership.
A memorandum of understanding between Waikato-Tainui, the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand will see public access to the sites of historical significance protected.
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Board chairman Wyatt Creech also attended the handover and looks forward to working with Waikato-Tainui in future.
"A day of commemoration for these New Zealand Wars will come. It is long overdue," Barry said. "We are engaged in this process and we will find a day that will suit every one."
"It is important to us as a nation, at least as important as our World War I commemorations, if not, more so."
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the Government wants to pinpoint a date that works before the end of 2017.
Otorohanga College student Leah Bell was 14 when she and other schoolmates launched the petition at the 150 year commemoration of the Battle of Orakau in April 2014, calling for a national day.
The petition was delivered to Parliament last December.
"We need to see more battlesites returned and I'm so grateful to be a part of this journey," said Bell who is in her final year at school.
She was at Turangawaewae Marae to witness the Crown hand Rangiriri to Waikato-Tainui and hear the Crown support for the remembrance day.
"I would never have thought that this would happen," she said.
"It's just been such a catalyst for our nation.
"Everyone has jumped on board, but I think it has just left a platform to say the things we have wanted to say for so long and get things done."
Rahui Papa, chairman of the Waikato-Tainui executive Te Arataura, said future talks will see a date solidified.
There is a strong sense of reconciliation at the handover, he said which stems from the 1995 Waikato Raupatu Settlement and has been fostered throughout negotiations over Rangiriri.
"As land was taken, land was returned today, outside of a settlement process, but it is the right thing to do because [Rangiriri] is still open to each and every person within this country," Papa said.
A Land Wars day will help build harmony across the country, he said.
"If we did it in the true spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, we could share our own stories, we could sit down together, eat together, talk together, all of those things that will help build nation building projects that will be fantastic for every community."