A 9-year-old boy sitting in his classroom at Kaiti School in Gisborne gets asked the question: "What's the name of this region we live in, son?"

"Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa, Miss" he proudly replies, "It means the standing place of Kiwa, who was a rangatira and tohunga of the area and it was the original name given to the first people that arrived here." He beamed at his teacher.

"Do you know where Poverty Bay is and what that name means son?" she asks.

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"No Miss," he innocently replied.

When she explained the whakapapa or history of Poverty Bay's name and how it may have been different if Captain Cook had spoken to iwi who were on the beach to greet him instead of shooting them, the young boy finds it confusing and hard to comprehend.

"Unfortunately, his sailors drew their guns and shot about eight or nine of the local iwi chiefs and then, obviously, he never got any supplies here and then, hence, poverty."

The teacher told her class who, by now, had formed their own opinions of Captain Cook, not ones told by textbooks.


Across the other side of Aotearoa, another 9-year-old boy is sitting in a Waikato kura classroom and is asked the same question.

"Do you know the name of this city and what it means boy?"

"Some people call it Hamilton, named after Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, Sir, the popular Scottish commander of HMS Esk, who was killed in the battle of Gate Pā over in Tauranga who was trying to take the land of our Tauranga Moana cousins. But we call it Kiririroa, from which the city takes its Māori name today" he proudly replied.

"Who told you that son?" he eagerly inquired.

"My nanny and my koro, they know heaps of cool stuff you will never find on Google, Sir," came the rapid response from the buzzing brainbox.

And back here in our own backyard, in a Greerton school classroom, a young girl is also asked the same question about the name of the township she grew up in and what it means.

"My koro doesn't call it Greerton Sir, because that was the name of Colonel Greer, the soldier that took our land and killed our people. My koro goes to town the long way around, so he doesn't have to drive down the road named after that man General Cameron, who was mean to Maori. Koro calls this area Pukehinahina, so we will never forget the brave ones who stood tall and fought for our land," came the proud reply from the quietly respectful student sitting down the back of the class.

What we teach our children will hold them in good stead to face a future world that can only continue to exist if we face the mistakes man has made in the past, and here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have taken huge steps to start addressing these mistakes, more so than any other country in the world who have an aboriginal first nations indigenous population.

Historian Vincent O'Malley - who must have had a great Saint Patrick's Day last Saturday celebrating his ancestor's challenges against colonial forces trying to take their land and language - was a keynote speaker at the readers' and writers' festival I attended in Wellington last week, and his knowledge of the land wars and where we got our current names from today is second to none.

If ever we needed a historian to influence the curriculum we teach our children in all our schools, surely it is O'Malley.

His taonga pukapuka (treasured book) The Great War for New Zealand is groundbreaking, written in the conviction that a nation needs to own its history.

As the former editor of Te Ara - The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Jock Phillips stated: "Vincent O'Malley has produced a hugely impressive work of history and a powerful story that should be read by all who care about New Zealand".

When I went to order a copy of The Great War for New Zealand down at Books A Plenty, it had already sold 80 copies and was selling hotter than a hangi stone to savvy readers wanting to know more about our country's history.

It is so encouraging to know there are a growing number of informed locals who will pass their knowledge from the backyard to back door, from boardroom to smoko room, and together we can move forward to a future understanding of who the founding fathers were of this place we are truly blessed to call home.

The taiaha of knowledge is a powerful weapon when it is wielded in a book. This masterpiece by O'Malley is a must for our kids to learn from and a taonga for all of us to treasure.

E te rangatira, teenei te whakaaro nui ki a koe.

broblack@xtra.co.nz Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best-selling author.