The birth of the idea to petition parliament to commemorate the NZ Land Wars with a day of remembrance happened when 186 Ōtorohanga College students, teachers and kaumatua went to Ōrākau and Rangiaowhia in March 2014.
Figures are uncertain, but about 500 British and colonial forces, 250 kūpapa and 2,000 Māori fighting the Crown may have died in the wars. Māori who had fought the Crown lost large areas of land – about 1 million hectares in total.
The tragedy of the NZ land wars explain an important part of why we are, who we are, and how we came to be. I feel that they also underlie many of the social justice struggles that we face as rangatahi. They explain the historical grievances and cause for redress that we hear about.
The words of mātua Rāhui, “lest we forget, we must remember, Me maumahara tātou”, and mātua Nick Tuwhangai, “the old people have tried to have our own NZ Land Wars remembered”, many of us started to feel a sense of urgency and that we personally had to do something to get these wars properly remembered.
Since that on-site history lesson, things have developed within our college that we never imagined, had never thought about, and probably believed were impossible.
None of us know exactly how the idea of a petition to the House of Representatives for a remembrance day was born, as in whose idea it was, but on that day in Ōrākau we, along with others, were launched into action.
We now recognise that a public petition is a good way to get the ministers of the crown to listen to the people who have taken the time to support and sign up to the idea that we need to do more to remember battles and wars in our own country: That we must do more to remember people who lost their lives, those who had their lives and the lives of their descendants changed forever and of the continuing impact of the NZ Land Wars today.
We have gathered signatures on the street, at festivals like the Kawhia Kai festival, Polyfest, Matatini, at the Tūrangawaewae Koroneihana and Waka Ama regatta. We have presented to the Iwi Leaders forum, and have garnered broad based support from national and regional groups, schools and communities.
This has taken time, thinking, learning, and courage for everyone involved. We have learnt about the diplomacy needed to carry a huge idea such as this forward with the people.
We have mostly collected hard copy signatures to an overwhelmingly positive reception. We also ran two online sites. One yielded 865 signatures. Petitionbuzz is still active.
It has been breathtaking to see the hope in people’s eyes, and to listen as they passionately told us to keep going with this valuable cause.
Very few people were negative about our petition, although there are some funny stories to tell. Mostly when people are signing they asked us questions and talked about their own beliefs and thoughts about the land wars history.
The 10,000 signatures collected showed us how potent it is when people get behind a petition. People are now counting on us to take this forward no matter what obstacles get in our way.
We are fighting for justice, it is not blatant in the struggle, but there has been so much grief and pain buried in the unspoken history of our land wars, within our beautiful country. Now it is up to us rangatahi to educate ourselves. We believe this begins with a day of remembrance each year. Maybe teachers, families, TV and radio programmes will start to discuss the idea. The tragedy 150 years ago will always be with us, but what we are doing now is a starting point for a historically conscious future.
Campaigners Waimarama Anderson and Leah Bell
1860s and 1870s
The most sustained and widespread campaign was the clash between the British Empire and the Māori king fought in Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1860–64. The last period of the wars, from 1864 to 1872, was largely fought between colonial troops and their Māori allies against followers of Māori prophetic leaders. These wars occurred in Taranaki, the East Coast and the central North Island.
Confiscations and impact
After the wars significant areas of Māori land in the North Island were confiscated by the government. Reactions against the confiscations saw a period of continued tension after the wars. In Taranaki peaceful protests against land confiscations were led by prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka. On 5 November 1881 Parihaka was sacked by government forces and houses burned. The protest against confiscations continued.
After the wars the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) established an aukati (boundary) which prevented Pākehā crossing into the King Country. The King Country became essentially an independent state within a state until negotiations saw it opened up from 1883.
In the 1890s Tūhoe people opposing surveying in Te Urewera were arrested by armed forces. This was described by Māori politician Āpirana Ngata as a small war. In the late 1890s some Ngāpuhi who opposed government dog taxes, led by Hone Tōia, were arrested by a significant government force and imprisoned.
The last major skirmish between the government and Māori occurred in 1916 with the arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu for sedition. Two Tūhoe men were killed during a firefight.