Editorial: local wars mostly go unrecognised

Te Porere was the site of Te Kooti's last stand near Tongariro, in the last major battle of the New Zealand Wars.
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Te Porere was the site of Te Kooti's last stand near Tongariro, in the last major battle of the New Zealand Wars.

EDITORIAL: How many New Zealand Wars sites can you name? And how many have you personally visited? 

Kiwi backpackers who make the patriotic trek to Gallipoli might be illustrations of the old TV commercial for New Zealand tourism that urged us not to leave home before we had seen the country. Before Gallipoli, go to Gate Pa. 

After a few decades of renovation, Gate Pa in Tauranga is one of the best examples we have of a war memorial done with taste and sensitivity. Changes made over time reflect the development of views about the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina) that have evolved from Eurocentric to bicultural. The changes have been matched by the evolution of the description, from Maori Wars to the Land Wars to the New Zealand Wars. 

But we still have such a long way to go. Historian Vincent O'Malley​ wrote in The Dominion Post in 2015 that our World War I commemorations were to receive as much as $25 million from lottery and other state funding. That sum makes the $1m recently announced by Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell for New Zealand Wars commemorations look like spare change. 

Flavell was inviting submissions from iwi, hapu and whanau to apply to Te Putake o te Riri – Wars and Conflicts in New Zealand Fund, marking the wars between various iwi and the Crown from the 1840s to the 1870s. 

The Government settled on a date of October 28 as a memorial day for the New Zealand Wars although Prime Minister Bill English quickly scotched the possibility that it could be a national day off.

But holiday or not, this October will see the first marking of the date, chosen to coincide with the signing of the 1835 Declaration of Independence and hosted by Te Taitokerau in Northland before moving to other sites in years to come. 

It is both sad and inspirational that it took two high school students to make this happen at all. Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson were at Otorohanga College in 2014 when they took a school trip to a battle site in the Waikato. By the end of 2015, their petition calling for a national day had 12,000 signatures and was presented to Parliament. 

"In our country we do not commemorate those who lost their lives here in New Zealand, both Maori and colonial," they said. "Their blood was shed on New Zealand soil; their lives were given in service to New Zealand."

We have also seen a push to create a Parihaka day on November 5, to mark a Taranaki iwi's famous passive resistance. This could theoretically co-exist with the New Zealand Wars day as the events at Parihaka in 1881 fall outside the historical scope of the wars even as they fit within the wider context of land confiscation. 

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The New Zealand Wars started in 1843 with the Wairau massacre near Blenheim. Four Maori and 22 British settlers were killed. Other key sites were in Northland, Wellington, Whanganui, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast, ending with Te Kooti's campaign in 1872. These stories are as rich and dramatic as any from Europe. 

Philip Matthews is a senior writer with The Press. This opinion piece ran as an editorial on July 15. 

 - Stuff

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