Two schoolgirls will present a petition to Parliament calling for a commemoration day for those killed in the New Zealand wars but Prime Minister John Key says a statutory holiday is unlikely unless New Zealand gives up one of its other public holidays.

Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson started the petition at the start of the year and have since gathered more than 11,000 signatures, including that of the Maori King Tuheitia. The kingitanga was set up in the late 1850s to try to halt alienation of land, just before the battles between settlers and Maori in the Waikato in the 1860s.

The girls and about 200 Waikato school children have travelled to Parliament to present the petition to Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta on Tuesday.

Teacher Lynda Campbell said the students from Otorohanga College were prompted into action after visits to battle sites in the Waikato last year. They were told kaumatua and kuia had tried to find a way to commemorate the land wars for some time without success.

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"There was some sadness in that moment." She said Waimarama and Leah had decided to try for themselves. The ultimate goal was a national day of commemorations. "Whether that becomes a national holiday or not is up to the machinations of Parliament."

She said the students did not have a proposal for a certain date for the commemorations or which holiday it could replace although in the past holidays such as Queen's Birthday had been raised as possibilities.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday another national holiday would have to be sacrificed to make way for a land wars commemoration day. "The question would be what that would be. The Government is not intending to extend the number of public holidays."

He said it was important the land wars were taught at schools and more information had been put into the curriculum. "I think it is important to understand our history."

In the explanation of the petition, Leah and Waimarama said New Zealand marked Anzac Day in honour of those who died in overseas wars, and they supported that commemoration. "In our country we do not commemorate those who lost their lives here in New Zealand, both Maori and colonial. Their blood was shed on New Zealand soil; their lives were given in service to New Zealand."

They said their visits had taught them stories of bravery by both the Maori and colonials, and the wars were a critical part of New Zealand's history and spanned several regions.

About 2750 people are estimated to have died in the New Zealand wars, including 2000 Maori fighting against the Crown.

The wars stretched from Northland, Whanganui and Wellington in the 1840s to Taranaki and Waikato in the 1860s.

Casualties in the 19th century Maori land wars:

• 500 British and colonial forces

• 250 kupapa [Maori fighting with the Crown]

• 2000 Maori fighting against the Crown

• About 1 million hectares was confiscated in punishment.

*estimates, source Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.