Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has paid tribute to three young women who have changed New Zealand history by making sure we remember our shared history. She also urged whoever formed the nation’s next Government to do the right thing and initiate an inquiry into historic state abuse.
Speaking to the annual conference of the Māori Women’s Welfare League in New Plymouth today, Dame Susan said:
“A few years ago Otorohanga College students - Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell - were on a class trip and were devastated to learn a massacre had taken place during the NZ Land Wars only half an hour from their school.”
“They questioned why they were taught about wars fought thousands of miles away but not those that happened on their own doorstep.”
The students launched a petition to recognise the NZ Wars. After gathering a staggering 130,000 signatures, next month the New Zealand Wars will be marked officially for the first time.
Dame Susan said making sure we know our own history is crucial to good race relations: “As we can see from the United States right now, we ignore our shared history at our peril.”
“By making us face our own history, these three amazing young women have helped change the fate of Aotearoa.”
Dame Susan also urged New Zealanders to keep the pressure on future governments for a national apology and public inquiry into the abuse of children and disabled adults held in state care.
“Another part of our nation’s history we need to face up to is the horrific, inhumane abuse of our children and vulnerable adults in state institutions. Māori children were more likely to be taken from whanau for little or no reason at all: some state homes reported 80 to 100% of youngsters held were Māori.”
“Children’s homes were little more than a pipeline to prison, the institutionalisation of tamariki Maori was the real start of the systemic and mass imprisonment of Māori New Zealanders.”
Dame Susan urged whatever Government took power in coming months to:
“Do the right thing. Do the moral thing. It’s never too late for justice: our children are worth it.”