New Zealand's other wars

4:04 pm on 25 April 2016

ANALYSIS: On a day when New Zealanders remember wars fought outside the country, Mihingarangi Forbes recalls the personal story of an ancestor who fought in New Zealand's land wars.

Battle of Gate Pah, April 27, 1864, when British under General Cameron attacked Maori stockade.

The Battle of Gate Pa on 27 April 1864, when British under General Cameron attacked a Māori stockade. Photo: AFP

My daughter is named Te Ahipourewa after my great-grandfather's sister. My ancestor, Te Ahipourewa, is thought to have fought and died in the Waikato wars.

My late grand-uncle recalls a story he was told as a child about a staunch woman who took to her horse with her gun during the land confiscation in the King Country and rode with the rebels defending our lands.

I haven't been able to verify this story through historical documents but as an oral piece of history it is pretty impressive.

If Te Ahipourewa did fight and die in the Waikato wars she would be one of an estimated 2990 men and women who died on New Zealand's battlefields. It is thought about 730 British and colonial troops and 2254 Māori lost their lives.

The battles began in the north at Kororāreka, or Russell, in 1845 - just five years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The following year battles erupted in Wellington and Whanganui. Then, after a 13-year break from war fighting began again, this time in northern Taranaki, then Waikato, followed by Tauranga's Battle of Gate Pa and Te Ranga.

At the same time Taranaki was being attacked again by colonial troops at the battle of Te Ahuahu. For five years fighting continued south, ending in 1869 at the battle of Taurangaika near Waitotara. The last area to come under colonial and British attack was the east coast, where Māori leader Te Kooti was defeated in one of the last battles of 1869 at Te Pōrere.

The New Zealand Wars (Ngā Pākanga Whenua ō Mua) were for many decades known as the Māori Wars. Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare is a trustee for the northern wars organisation Ruapekapeka Trust. He believes many people confused the earlier intertribal musket wars which took place about 1810 with the New Zealand Wars, which began about 1843. Mr Henare said that was exactly why we needed to teach New Zealand history in our schools.

National MP

Education Minister Hekia Parata Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Education Minister Hekia Parata encourages schools to teach both sides of New Zealand history - the colonial and the Māori - but said she would not go as far as making it compulsory.

"Because that is not the New Zealand way, we do not compel specific things. I'm not requiring every school to teach coding even though there is a group who wants that to happen."

But can we trust 'the New Zealand way' to ensure we produce well rounded New Zealanders with a good understanding of our past?

History Teachers Association chairman Graham Wall said there was no prescribed curriculum for history, so teachers around the country could choose to teach whatever they wanted. He said it was conceivable that could mean no New Zealand history was taught at all.

"The achievement standards by which assessments are conducted, many of them have a rider in which the topic chosen should be 'of significance' to New Zealanders."

A haka on Parliament grounds during the presentation of petition to have the Land Wars recognised.

A haka on Parliament grounds during the presentation of a petition to have the New Zealand Wars recognised. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But Mr Wall said that rider had been interpreted quite loosely.

The association did a survey of the history topics taught by schools last year. The survey, which received 105 responses, found the topics traditionally studied at NCEA levels 1 and 2 were the two World Wars, black civil rights in the United States, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. At level 3, half the students were taught 19th century New Zealand history.

Where else could students learn about their past? One of the eight principles of the New Zealand Curriculum, which guides schools on decision-making, is the Treaty of Waitangi.

A 2011 Education Review Office report found that for many schools the Treaty of Waitangi was challenging to implement. The report said in schools where the treaty principle was evident, te reo Māori was valued and promoted through school management and through activities such as pōwhiri and karakia, and the teaching of kapa haka.

But is there any real indication that students who do not take history at school are learning anything about both sides of New Zealand's past? Mr Henare said, while he commended any school that was teaching aspects of Māori language and culture, it was not history.

"It's token gestures at best and to use the Treaty of Waitangi as the platform just to do those minor things, those small cultural things that should be a given, is really poor."

Mr Henare believed there was a critical mass of support for making it compulsory for schools to offer lessons in New Zealand history, but he said it had to start at grassroots level.

"It starts at teacher training. You have to build the critical mass [but] you also have to upskill those who are already teaching."

Waikato Tainui is not waiting for the Education Ministry. This month it launched a partnership with 14 secondary schools, committing to mutual education objectives. The Waikato wars will be part of that.

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