04 November 2013

Acknowledging Our History of Conflict

by Wendy Fowler

Recently my interest was piqued by a title from Heritage Quarterly ‘Confronting our History of Conflict’. I borrowed the above title and made some changes as can be seen. Then the subtitle really got my attention: ‘working together for our shared heritage.’ What a wonderful concept of one-ness and harmony. This got me thinking about what our New Zealand shared heritage actually is; what does it mean? Where did it start and with whom do we share it? And do we actually know anything about it? Scary notion.

After recently going on a field trip with our Year 3 School of Education students through various New Zealand War sites from Pokeno to Orakau near Te Awamutu (a first for me and very moving) - and wrestling with some of these questions - I thought it would be useful to write down a few thoughts about our shared heritage in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Useful especially as this is a commemorative year in New Zealand history. Sobering because both Pakeha and Maori lost their lives in these wars that some of us know little about. I will explain.

Heritage Quarterly quotes renowned historian Professor James Belich from Victoria University. Belich says that the New Zealand Wars (part of our shared heritage) that raged between British forces together with Colonial forces, and several Maori tribes between 1845 and 1872 were ’bitter and bloody struggles, as important to New Zealand as were the Civil Wars to England and the United States’. Heritage rightly points out that this ‘watershed moment in our history, crucial to the development of New Zealand race relations, still goes largely unacknowledged, the interpretation fatally unbalanced.’ This should not be so.

I have a tiny involvement in an astounding movement occurring in Aotearoa right now. It is a movement which has as its goal ‘Making Peace/Maungarongo’. Much of what it is driving at has to do with events that took place in those Civil Wars more than 150 years ago. A New Zealand Historic Places Trust spokesman, Kaihautu Te Kenehi reminds us that ‘Next year we will be acknowledging the centenary of World War One, but we don’t acknowledge the battles that took place on our own soil.’ In particular it would be good to remember that this year has been the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the Waikato Wars. Te Kenehi poignantly adds: ‘People still think we had to travel overseas to fight and die-it just isn’t true.’ Maori and Pakeha died on New Zealand soil long before 1914.

The Waikato wars began in 1863 with the crossing of the Mangatawhiri Stream. Governor George Grey had built his army. He had also purpose-built Great South Road in order to invade the Waikato. This is common knowledge. Once he had an army capable of defeating the Waikato, Grey set about starting the war.

Crossing the stream meant war. Maori had asked the British not to cross the stream into the Waikato. They did not want war. In July Grey’s army passed over the stream without warning. To make it appear somewhat legal he backdated a declaration that any Maori who did not acknowledge the Queen’s authority would be in rebellion against the Crown. However most Waikato Maori had not signed the Treaty and thus retained their sovereignty. Maori defended their land. For doing so they were branded rebels and more than 3 million acres of prime farmland was confiscated. This was done by an Act drawn up in parliament. (The New Zealand Settlements Act of 1863 allowed land to be confiscated without compensation.) One of the most important wars on New Zealand soil, the Waikato War, had begun. It would be good to note that up until this time Maori farmers, including those from the rich Waikato region, had been providing many settler areas with fresh fruit, flour, wheat, potatoes and pigs.

Te Ara describes the period between 1840 and 1860 as ‘the golden age of MÄori enterprise.’ North Island Maori grew, processed and transported produce to all available markets. (Auckland, Wellington, Whanganui, New Plymouth, even Nelson and Dunedin) When the Waikato Wars began, not only did this trade halt, which caused suffering on all sides but land confiscation meant that for Maori there was no more land to cultivate, no money to be made, only poverty and disgrace. Although the judiciary warned that land confiscation was illegal, the government methodically took 3 million acres of land.

1863 was also the time sometimes called the second Taranaki War. It was a constant time of unrest between Maori and the New Zealand Government. Large scale confiscation of land had also begun there in 1863 after the first Taranaki War. From 1863 the army, working with greater numbers of troops and heavy artillery methodically took tenure of MÄori land by driving off the inhabitants, adopting a ""scorched earth"" policy of decimating MÄori villages, stock and cultivations. Warring and non-warring villages were targeted. As soldiers advanced, they built an expanding line of fortifications, behind which settlers built homes and began farming. By doing this almost a million acres of land was confiscated. Why mention this? Partly because it also occurred 150 years ago but mainly because I hope to follow up this blog with one on Parihaka and this is good background to that story.

It cheers the heart that not everyone in the New Zealand government or even in the army agreed with these policies. In February 1865 British commander, General Duncan Cameron resigned after clashing with Governor Sir George Grey over his war policy. Cameron left New Zealand six months later. He viewed the war as a form of land plunder and had counselled the Colonial Office to withdraw British troops from New Zealand. They listened. To their detriment New Zealand volunteers filled the gap and although lives continued to be lost on both sides it had by then become a time of utter loss for Maori.

There is a sadness to our shared past heritage, no matter how you look at it. Now, glancing back over the heading in Heritage that piqued my interest, I had a strong desire to change it to ‘Acknowledging our History of Conflict’. That would be a good place to start for all of us. Comfortable? Probably not but it could, I believe, take us a step forward; perhaps to a place where we could walk alongside each other as we mourn those things that hurt our shared heritage. Perhaps mourning will bring embrace of one another as we learn each to accept the other more fully as we acknowledge what occurred in our past. Pray God that this can be so and continue to be so.



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