As a keen but amateur student of New Zealand's colonial and pre-colonial history, I am continually embarrassed and concerned that, in this day and age, the subject is still not taught as a subject in many secondary schools.
So, I welcomed the Government's announcement this week that New Zealand history will be compulsory in all schools by 2022.
There are two quotes I always have in mind when reading or researching history: "Those who cannot remember (or do not know) the past are condemned to repeat it" by philosopher George Santayana, and "History is written by the victors" – Source unknown but wrongly attributed often to Sir Winston Churchill.
There were two distinct periods of war in 19th century New Zealand.
Firstly, the Musket Wars, from about 1810 to 1840, fought between iwi and responsible, because of measles and other European diseases, for reducing the Māori population from about 100,000 to 70,000 in 30 years.
This was followed by what are now known as the New Zealand Wars from 1845 intermittently to 1872 between Crown forces with Māori allies against "rebel" Māori.
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Make no mistake about our colonial history, it was violent and life was cheap.
In 1922, New Zealand Wars scholar James Cowan estimated 2990 people died: 736 British, Kupapa and Colonial troops and 2254 Māori. This is only a conservative estimate as many Māori dead were removed from the battlefield under fire.
The New Zealand Wars decimated most of the Waikato and Taranaki populations, driving tribes into different areas with the consequent sense of loss, anger and shame that stays with some iwi to this day. This was followed by large land confiscations as "war reparations", something that suited the Crown because of the hunger for land to place the thousands of settlers arriving weekly from the United Kingdom and Australia.
Māori were a stubborn and dangerous enemy, something the British had not encountered in previous escapades disposing of or overcoming pesky aboriginal peoples around the world. The Crown was forced to place 14 regiments of soldiers in New Zealand, totalling 18,000 men, during the period of the campaigns against these "rebels".
This does not include the local militia and pro-European tribes who chose to fight on the side of the Crown for various different reasons. Most, if not all, the fighting in this period was confined to areas in the North Island and was guerrilla warfare, something the Māori perfected and the regular British Army struggled with.
New Zealand-founded militia and ranger units did learn from their Māori foes but at serious cost. Atrocities occurred on both sides as in any war, to the ongoing condemnation of the participants.
Some say that Māori, as signatories to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, were being rebellious for digging their toes in when it came time for them to up stakes and leave their ancestral lands, including thousands of acres broken in for farming in the Waikato, to allow immigrants to take the land, occasionally paying paltry prices.
The tribes had not signed up for that, they signed up for a partnership between two independent and great peoples. The Crown promised one thing and delivered another with its formulaic treaty designed to tame restless natives of the Empire.
Post 1872, the then accepted history, written by the European, was that two noble races, one savage but worthy, fought to an acceptable peace for both sides and forged on together as a brave young colony, hand-in-hand into the future, showing the world that two races could live in harmony.
This looked good in the history books of the day, but Māori had a very different point of view, hence where we are today, trying to right the wrongs of the past.
"History is written by the victors" is a silly saying but in New Zealand's case, as far as the rest of the world and most European New Zealanders were aware, this was the reality. The wars were best forgotten and best not included in the school curriculum. I wonder why?
I did not learn any of the above at school and I am betting most reading this did not either. I learnt it from family stories, friends, kaumatua, kuia and my own reading.
There has, in recent years, been a call from young people to commemorate the war dead on both sides of these conflicts, especially the period known as the New Zealand Wars, as something all New Zealanders should be made aware of.
It is not a pretty or, on the Crown's behalf, honourable history, but it is our history and we should honour it and the dead on both sides. We should always remember it and accept it as we develop as a nation facing the challenges of creating a fair and equitable society for all people who call Aotearoa home.
Perhaps a national day of remembrance?