14 Oct 2016

Recognising NZ Wars 'so important for our cultural identity'

6:39 pm on 14 October 2016

A new book on the Waikato Land Wars has been recognised as a step forward in a movement calling for more education on New Zealand's history.

A haka on Parliament grounds during the presentation of a petition in 2015 to have the Land Wars recognised.

A haka outside Parliament in December during the presentation of a petition to have a national day to recognise the New Zealand Wars. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Last Sunday, several copies of The Great War for New Zealand were presented to four of the Otorohanga College students that campaigned for further recognition of the New Zealand Wars.

The students started a petition last year calling for a national day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the New Zealand Wars, including the Waikato Land Wars of the 1860s.

For Otorohanga students Charles Ward and Leah Bell, the book was more than just an historical resource.

"It's basically awareness of our history - being able to just love who we are and who we were and getting everyone to know we are a nation that had wars and the wars weren't just overseas," Mr Ward said.

The book is the first full-length history of the wars since 1879 and has been endorsed by senior Waikato-Tainui leaders.

Ms Bell said the book represented a step forward in a movement recognising the importance of knowing this country's own history.

Leah Bell (right) with schoolmate Tori van der Hayden at Koroneihana

Leah Bell, right, pictured with schoolmate Tori van der Hayden at Koroneihana, is among a group of students calling for a national day to mark the New Zealand Wars. Photo: Supplied / Linda Campbell

"It's important. It's so important. Especially for our cultural identity. The more we understand our history, the more we understand who we are and the more united we can be," she said.

Otorohanga College teacher Linda Campbell said it was about commemorating, memorialising and defending New Zealand's history.

A strong whānau-style community around the school provided a support system to push that message to a wider public, she said.

"It was registering that everyone's working together, everyone's working very hard, not just our kura, but lots of other organisations. Waikato-Tainui are hugely, hugely significant in what's now become a movement.

"The launching of the book was a beautiful moment in this entire journey," she said.

The book's author, Vincent O'Malley, presented the books to the students and called it a privilege to do so, especially given the work they have put in promoting New Zealand history.

"They started something that is really quite magnificent and the response to their petition has been amazing - over 12,000 signatures in support of it," he said.

In December last year, several hundred people marched on Parliament to present the petition.

In August this year, the government acknowledged there should be a day to remember the New Zealand Wars.

The work of the Otorohanga students has been echoed elsewhere across the country. Mr O'Malley said some students from schools in Gisborne had been making a case for learning more about the land wars in their area.

"It's a movement that's gaining traction,

"I think there is a real desire amongst young people to learn about the history of the conflicts in New Zealand. That shows a level of maturity and understanding of the need for dialogue and reconciliation about these events, which is lacking in many older people," Mr O'Malley said.

The book presentation was hosted by publisher Bridget Williams, whose work was recognised by Mr Ward.

"I don't think she's recognised a lot but she does a lot of work for all these New Zealand authors," Mr Ward said.

Miss Campbell agreed.

"She's carved an amazing road and without her, a lot of these histories would be lost," she said.