School principal Robin Fabish knew some people might not be happy with his speech to Napier's Anzac Day dawn parade on Monday.
But that was the point, he says, explaining that at a time when the New Zealand history curriculum is being rewritten it is important for people to be aware of the New Zealand Wars, and those who stood up for their rights and what they believed in.
Several people present took issue with Fabish expanding the memorial narrative beyond the traditional acknowledgement of mainly 20th-century conflicts.
"We all need to know about the battles of the New Zealand Wars which took place from the 1860s," said the Tamatea High School principal, who has been a teacher in Napier since 2004.
He referenced history including the battle at Omarunui in 1866, and questioned the use in some street names of people such as those who directed or led the militia.
"How comfortable are we about naming our local parks after people like McLean and Whitmore, who seem to have caused significant suffering for Maori?", said Fabish, of Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Mahanga descent.
Several Hawke's Bay Today readers objected. Alan Rhodes questioned whether it was an "appropriate place to address perceived colonial injustices to Maori", and related how the "Assembly was treated to a flow of ethnic guilt-washing."
"The matters touched upon by Robin Fabish were not in tune with the unity and remembrance themes of Anzac Day, or with many in that pre-dawn crowd. Whether we like it or not, there is a time for everything," he wrote.
Heather MacKenzie wrote: "To be delivered a sermon on the Maori Wars, at an Anzac service, was insulting and in my opinion completely inappropriate to the occasion."
However, not everyone who has contacted Fabish directly objected, with one email saying:
"As a Pakeha New Zealander, I am so moved to learn of our local history and to be made aware of the Pakeha lens through which so much has been told up until now.
"Your careful choice of words and the questions you asked of us all were so helpful to me and my re-education."
Fabish, who had spoken in the past at the Taradale Anzac Day commemorations, and was invited by Napier RSA president John Purcell to be the guest speaker on Monday at the Soundshell on Marine Parade, says: "I didn't get much of a brief."
Although approached by more than one member concerned about the speech, Purcell said he was approached afterwards by people who "I think thought it was a bit political". But he reminded them that "freedom of speech" was one of the things the servicemen had fought for.
For more than a decade the Napier RSA has used high-school students as guest speakers for the parade, giving them ideas about how to prepare their speech.
With the uncertainty of the pandemic it was not practicable to arrange a school speaker this year, so they went for the principal, feeling it was not appropriate to tell an adult speaker what they should be talking about.
Fabish said he knew "a few people were a little exercised" by what he says but he believes if one is invited to speak it is an expectation that it be "provocative" and makes people think.
"I understand, too, if people feel strongly about the sanctity of Anzac Day, and I understand how they might be upset," he said.
"I certainly don't want to denigrate anyone for taking a stand for what they believe is right."