Otorohanga College students deliver Land Wars petition to Parliament
Hundreds marched on Parliament on Tuesday to challenge the government to set aside a day to remember the 19th-century Land Wars.
The debate was sparked by Otorohanga College students, whose petition gained nearly 13,000 signatures, but their cause has been taken up by more than 400 Maori elders around the country.
Student Leah Bell was among the students who marched on Tuesday to present the petition. She said a visit to battlesites at Orakau and Rangiaowhia were the reason for starting the petition.
"We were shocked and horrified at the stories told by the kaumatua, who were distraught sharing their ancestors' stories about innocent women and children and elders being burned alive," she said.
"We decided that it was our responsibility now to take action and be proactive about our history. We petitioned absolutely everywhere and we've ended up with almost 13,000 signatures.
"I guess we're also proud of New Zealand and of who we are - that we will pull together and support each other in this way."
The petition was presented to Parliament by Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta.
"In accepting this petition today, I pay tribute to those who worked so hard to bring it to this whare, and to our tupuna it seeks to commemorate," she said.
"Labour will now work hard to make the request of the thousands of petitioners a reality. I will do what is necessary to make this happen."
Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday ruled out an extra public holiday on top of the 11 already observed in New Zealand. "If it was an additional public holiday, the answer is no," he said.
But he did not rule out replacing one of the existing holidays, though he said there would likely not be strong support for that and he had not received any advice on the options.
However, the decision may be taken out of politicians' hands.
Battle of Orakau Heritage Society president Kaawhia Te Muraahi said the petition would be left to go through the political process.
"We're going to organise and co-ordinate and put in place a plan to identify a day and we are just going to do it.
"The invitation has been out out to the Crown to come in and support."
"We will talk about the notion of a national day and the history of this country.
"The petition is here, but the kaupapa of the national day continues and the next stage around that is the Te Tapuwae Roa," said Muraahi.
Te Tapuwae Roa is a 1500km endurance event starting from three locations - the Bay of Islands, the East Coast and Marlborough - and converging on Turangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia, during the August celebrations of the Maori King Tuhetia's reign.
"We will now take the concepts, the notions and have a conversation with the country and we do that by embarking on Te Tapuwae Roa," said Muraahi.
He said there were up to 400 national leaders in support of the petition from across the country, including representatives from Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Maniapoto, Raukawa and Waikato, including Rahui Papa, Tukoroirangi Morgan and the Maori King Tuheitia's eldest son, Whatumoana Paki.
Mahuta said over the last year, iwi that had significant wars in their areas had celebrated and commemorated them, and the petition presented to Parliament on Tuesday would raise consciousness about the events nationwide.
A day of remembrance would be "much like Anzac Day", Mahuta said. A public holiday could be the outcome, but it was premature to suggest a date for it.