READER REPORT:

Kiwis 'oblivious' to our own history

MADI WILLIAMS
Last updated 18:15 09/02/2017
R
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

All of New Zealand history - not just the palatable aspects - needs to be afforded the same respect.

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New Zealanders' oblivious and uninformed attitudes towards our own history will not change until the way we engage with our past does.

The way we currently engage with history has proven ineffective; the discourse is not changing.

The need for Maori history and language to be made compulsory in the education system is something heard often enough.

However, this idea has been met by a baffling outcry among New Zealanders, who are seemingly appalled that anything Maori should be forced upon them, lest they be forced out of a convenient state of denial about the realities of our nation’s past.

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The response has largely been to leave the past in the past or to deny that any injustice occurred in the first place.

What this reveals is that many New Zealanders remain oblivious – whether deliberately or unintentionally – to the events of our nation’s past.

There is a general sense of discomfort with how New Zealand came to be, despite comments from our previous Prime Minister John Key that "New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that was settled peacefully".

We need to confront the inherent racism in our education system and national rhetoric. But when so many New Zealanders are unwilling to engage with our past, it makes it difficult to fathom how this can change.

Attempts to alter these attitudes can feel futile and reading through the comment sections on articles, such as the Green Party’s proposal to make te reo Maori compulsory in schools, is incredibly disheartening.

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The blinkers need to be removed and Maori history, culture, and language need to be made compulsory so the next generation of Kiwis can get the chance to alter long-held attitudes.

Rhetoric surrounding New Zealand’s past is going around in circles. We need new, innovative approaches to get people engaging with the past to alleviate this issue. The way forward is through immersive approaches.

We need to be experiencing our history, instead of just talking about it and hoping people are listening.

Recently, whilst in Wellington, I attended The Great War Exhibit at Te Papa. This experience made me think about the value of immersive environments. A colleague remarked, "This is how history should be done".

We need to afford the same status to our Maori past as we do the Great War. This is not to discount the importance of the Great War and the long-lasting impacts it had, but rather to stress the importance of our wide and multifaceted past.

These sorts of experiences enable a humanisation of our history that books simply can’t.

Why not have a large-scale, immersive museum experience for other key events in New Zealand’s past, such as the Land Wars?

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This would mean New Zealanders would no longer remain conveniently blind to the realities of the past.

If the Land Wars were regarded with the same respect as the Great War, then these attitudes could change.

The respect shown to the loss of Maori lives at Gallipoli in the exhibit is in direct contrast to the lack of national remorse for the up to 3000 people killed in the Land Wars, most of whom were Maori.

All of New Zealand history - not just the palatable aspects - needs to be afforded the same respect. Maori history has been relegated to the sidelines of New Zealand history for too long, to satisfy the majority.


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