A major new museum is to be built on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in honour of the 28th Māori Battalion.

Details, including the cost and design, have yet to be finalised, but finance is already committed from the government's Provincial Growth Fund. It is scheduled to open on Waitangi Day 2020.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the museum was part of the coalition agreement between New Zealand First and Labour.

It would be built at Waitangi because that was where Sir Apirana Ngata made his famous speech about the "price of citizenship" to soldiers of the Battalion as they prepared to leave for Europe and North Africa.

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Sir Apirana argued that participation in the war was a price Māori had to pay as citizens of New Zealand, and would allow them to help shape the country once war ended. The Battalion also paraded at the Treaty Grounds in 1940, at the opening of Te Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house.

"Once politicians on both sides were aware of the depth of Sir Apirana's speech, they realised the legacy value of the proposal," Mr Jones said.

The story of A Company, made up of men from Te Tai Tokerau, was likely to take a central place, but he expected the museum to be comprehensive. The Waitangi National Trust was still consulting representatives of the Battalion's four other companies, so a final proposal had yet to be produced.

"For a lot of families whose parents, grandparents and great uncles fought overseas, it will be particularly meaningful. It builds on the ethics of service and a key feature of New Zealand's Māori heritage," he added.

Sir Apirana Ngata leading a haka at Waitangi in 1940.
Sir Apirana Ngata leading a haka at Waitangi in 1940.

"I think it will offer additional avenues for domestic and international tourists, to see another layer of the partnership and the nature of how Māori have lived up to Article 3 of the Treaty (which gave Māori the rights and obligations of British subjects)."

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus said the trust was working with architects to come up with a suitable design, and had begun the resource consent process, while trust chairman Pita Tipene was leading consultation with the other companies.

The museum would be an "absolutely perfect fit" for Waitangi, he added. When it was originally proposed it was to have been the Treaty of Waitangi Battalion.

It would also pay tribute to the Māori Pioneer Battalion of World War I.

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■ More than 3600 men volunteered with the Māori Battalion, serving in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Of those, 649 were killed or died on active service and 1712 were wounded, a casualty rate almost 50 per cent higher than the average for New Zealand infantry battalions. Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, who commanded the 2nd NZ Division, said: "No infantry battalion had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties as the Māori Battalion."

The men of the 28th also won the respect of the enemy, Afrika Korps commander Erwin Rommel reputedly saying: "Give me the Māori Battalion and I will conquer the world."