Indigenous | Declaration of Independence

Why Aotearoa should push past commemorating to understanding the NZ Wars

This Friday marks the 187th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand.

But Friday also commemorates Te Pūtake o te Riri, a day set aside to remember the New Zealand Wars, after a petition from Ōtorohanga College students was presented to the government in 2015.

The significance of Te Pūtake o te Riri and what October 29 means in Aotearoa's past, present and future is the basis of the third episode in the Te Aho series.

Cabinet Minister Peeni Henare (Ngāpuhi) says the context of the wars is important including knowing why Māori were at war with the Crown.

“We saw it play out in places like Ruapekapeka, Ōrākau and so many places around the country.”

After the signing of Te Tiriti between Māori and the Crown, Māori continued to manage as they had before 1840.

Can Aotearoa take the next step and learn about its troubled history?

When it all changed

“It’s really only in the main sequence of the New Zealand Wars through the 1860s that the change and the Crown’s assertions of the sovereignty of unbridled authority became a reality,” which had major consequences for Māori, historian Professor Vincent O’Malley says.

"For one thing you get the Native Land Court established in 1865 and two years later you get the native schools system."

“One strips Māori of their land, the other their language, and we still have the consequences of that today in many ways.”

The 1867 Native Schools Act established a national system of village primary schools under the control of the Native Department. As part of the government's policy to assimilate Māori into Pākehā society, instruction was to be conducted entirely in English where practical, Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand says. Māori were required to donate land for the schools and pay for the costs of building and staff salaries.

Kaawhia Te Muraahi (Ngāti Maniapoto) says the wars were the chiefs’ demonstration of mana motuhake remaining with tangata whenua.

“It is their expression of, exclusively, their inherent and inalienable rights and sovereignty to self-determination.”

Henare wants to make sure that the country doesn’t just stop at commemorations but also has it “explored to understand the rationale of our ancestors”.

“Just as importantly, to understand the role of each ancestor in those battles.”

Settlement education

With colonisation in those years, it changed te ao Māori with economic, social and spiritual implications.

O’Malley says learning about the history, including the Treaty settlements, will help steer Aotearoa on where to go.

“We’ve had massive Treaty settlements processed between the Māori and the Crown. [But] other New Zealanders haven’t been part of those conversations. They’ve often had no idea on the history of those claims.

“We need a sort of broader base process of reconciliation healing – that can only happen with understanding and dialogue about our sheer past.”

Though they’re a fraction of what is owed to Māori, O’Malley says including other people in the process can stop the "Māori getting rich" from settlements stigma.

“[Māori] are signing away 98%, 99% of everything they lost in those settlements.”

“Only through time and future generations, I think, will be an opportunity for our tamariki and mokopuna to live in a world without carrying the burdens and the mamae of the past,” Henare says.