Huge changes for education are near with the finalising of the nation's new history curriculum.
The finalised content will be ready in time for schools and kura to develop their local curriculums and marau ā-kura for history from 2022.
The curriculum has the potential for unprecedented positive impact if it enables students to own the complexity of the past to build our sense of nationhood.
The February 3 draft curriculum revolves around three big admirable ideas:
•Māori history is the foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand.
•Colonisation and its consequences have been central to our history for the past 200 years and continue to influence all aspects of New Zealand society.
•The course of Aotearoa New Zealand's history has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power.
The first big idea centralises tangata whenua as the first-peoples of Aotearoa. The second big idea explores the nation as part of European imperial expansion.
The third big idea examines the contested notion of power shaping individual and community life.
The 1866 conflict at Ōmarunui is a local example of these three ideas in action. For it was at Ōmarunui that conflict arose between hau kainga (home people) and manuhiri (visitors) including relatives from nearby Māori hapū, and others from distant tribes.
The consequences were devastating. After diplomatic attempts to ensure peace failed, the now unwelcome manuhiri faced an attack led by local Rangatira with a force of approximately 200 hau kainga and an equal number of settler militia.
Napier had only been established for 15 years. The region was in transformation with divergent forms of sovereignty, governance, and spiritual authority.
There were the traditional Māori hapū Rangatira, various Christian churches and the emergent millennial Māori 'hahi' (faiths) aiming to lead their followers to spiritual salvation, the Colonial Government, the Provincial 'Settler' Government, and, at a distance, the British Crown.
Local Rangatira enacted the tikanga (protocol) of ringa kaha (force of arms) in defending their mana whenua (control over land). The government entities were rapacious for land and intent on establishing a singular sovereignty. Settlers wanted to protect their status as residents on newly acquired land.
These events and interests cannot be explained in binary terms. They are complex and nuanced. However, as recently demonstrated in Parliament on Tuesday, June 29 during the second reading of the Ahuriri Hapu Claims Settlement Bill, we heard politicians of all stripes position the event at Ōmarunui as the Crown versus Māori. This is a dangerous misreading of the historical evidence and is harmful to the reputation of the region's Rangatira.
Yet, in the Crown's ruthless desire to complete the Ahuriri Hapu Treaty Settlement regardless of the injurious historic account, these events are reduced to an imprudent binary account. The Crown are the baddies, and the vanquished are the goodies. The hau kainga are invisible. If this was a history exam the note in the marker's margin might say "room for improvement".
History is complex and often paradoxical. That's its beauty. We need to leave this next generation of young New Zealanders with the opportunity to discover and critique the various perspectives that led our forebears to act in the way that they did. Understanding the past challenges, enable us to do better in the future. The strands of the past must become the ties that bind, not divide.
Mat Mullany is a historian of Ngāti Pārau descent.