Will a national Land Wars Day build unity?
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Are Kiwi kids missing out on New Zealand's history?
I recently sat with the Maori Affairs Select Committee to discuss the proposed Land Wars commemoration day. My submission was listened to respectfully and there was honest engagement and genuine consideration of the issues, in particular from acting chair Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta.
So it was disappointing to hear that same night that the Government had already decided the matter. Their announcement that a Land Wars commemoration day would be established came before the committee had reported back to Parliament - it hadn’t even finished hearing submissions.
The committee’s deliberations were instead abruptly voided by the Government’s surprise announcement. An announcement that lacked detail and had the hallmarks of a hasty decision made to coincide with the current Maori king’s 10-year anniversary. Some reports suggested it was the result of a deal between National and the Maori Party.
On matters such as this one hopes for much better from our leaders. Nation building will not be achieved by riding roughshod over parliamentary due process. Neither will it be established by backroom deals presented as a fait-accompli to the electorate.
The media coverage of the announcement also confirmed why many New Zealanders have sincere reservations about a Land Wars Day. First there was Tuku Morgan angrily telling us how the various battles would now be afforded as much respect as those we remember on Anzac Day. However, Morgan overlooks a vital difference; Anzac Day recalls the times we fought together against a common enemy. It celebrates our unity in fighting for the values we share. In contrast, the Land Wars were when we fought against each other. Will commemorating them build unity?
This is not to say we can or should ignore our history. As I noted in my submission to the Maori Affairs Committee, in a healthy relationship you do your best to face your failures and conflicts. Difficult conversations are held. Apologies are made. Actions are taken to put things right. Forgiveness is offered. Reconciliation is achieved and while lessons are learned, both parties put things behind them and move forward to better things. This is the dynamic of a healthy relationship.
In New Zealand we are building strong race relations based on this dynamic. It is called the Treaty settlements process. The problem with a day focusing on past conflict is that it goes against the grain of that process. In fact it risks stalling that journey by freezing our focus on conflicts that need to be put behind us.
The media coverage of the decision to establish a Land Wars Day reinforced this as it focused solely on the battles, casualties and subsequent land loss. There was no mention of the 1995 Tainui settlement where the Crown apologised, redress was made and the stories of the Waikato conflict were officially recognised. Nor was there any mention of the great progress Tainui has made subsequently, turning its settlement into nearly $1 billion of assets.
If we are to build national unity in New Zealand – true kotahitanga – we cannot afford to focus on our past without the context provided by our present.
Perhaps the deeper question hidden in the desire for a Land Wars commemoration day is why? What is it we really want to hold on to from our past? It is true we can, and should, not forget our history. However, sometimes holding tightly to events involving grief, pain and loss can mean those things end up holding on to us.
In contrast, as I suggested in my closing remarks to the committee, there are some treasures worth holding on to. The words of the first Maori king Potatau Te Wherowhero at his coronation are one such gem: “Hold fast to love, to the law, and to faith in God”.
Another bright jewel is the heart and spirit of Wiremu Tamihana, the Ngati Haua leader who oversaw that first coronation. Tamihana was a man of great faith and great love. He desired peace, but found himself drawn into a conflict he never wanted. What would Tamihana say to us today? I suspect he would open the Bible that he carried with him everywhere and direct us to the words of the apostle Peter: “Above all hold fast to love, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
Ewen McQueen blogs at www.renewNZ.org.nz.
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