The school students who took a petition calling for a commemoration day for the New Zealand Wars say they will continue to fight for the recognition even if their efforts today are fruitless.
The students from Otorohanga College handed the petition over to Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta at Parliament today, before an audience of several hundred who had travelled down from Waikato - including the son of the Maori King, and Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan.
The petition was signed by more than 11,000 people and calls for a national day of commemoration for those who died in the New Zealand Wars.
Their efforts secured support from several parties in Parliament, although there was no firm commitment from either National or Labour for a national holiday for the commemorations.
Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson spoke at a function for the petition and said the Government had put significant effort into marking the wars, including purchasing the site of the battle of Orakau and introducing a commemorations policy and giving the Historic Places Trust power to declare battle sites as sites of national significance. However, later he was lukewarm about the prospect of a statutory holiday to commemorate the wars similar to Anzac Day. "You don't need to have a day off work to have a national day of commemoration." He did not believe it should replace Queen's Birthday, saying Queen's Birthday was "part of who we are. A more valid question could well be: is it more appropriate to commemorate the New Zealand Wars than Guy Fawkes' Day?"
Powerful haka by "warriors" from Maniopoto-Raukawa, streaked with red paint symbolic of blood, began the proceedings at the front of Parliament.
The petition handover was attended by politicians from parties across Parliament, both Maori and pakeha. Several - such as Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger - were from the regions most affected by the 19th century land wars.
Afterward, student Tai Te Ariki Jones said New Zealand should recognise what happened in its own country and she would keep pushing for that if there was no short term success. "This is something that's going to be with us for the rest of our lives. We won't be able to rest until we know we've made a difference. We've come this far so why stop now."
Another of those who led the petition, Waimarama Anderson, also said it was only the start of their efforts. "Personally I wasn't thinking for myself, I was thinking for the whole of New Zealand. I'm thinking about our kids and what we're going to learn about. I want my kids to know about what happened in New Zealand. The Land Wars shaped us today."
The petition will now go to the Maori Affairs Select Committee for consideration and Nanaia Mahuta, who tabled the petition, said she would do her utmost to ensure its goals were met. Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the party advocated stronger commemorations of the wars.
Labour leader Andrew Little said a public holiday to mark the New Zealand Wars was not out of the question, but was reluctant to name a holiday that could be scrapped to make way for it. Other MPs including Kelvin Davis and Nanaia Mahuta had suggested Queen's Birthday or the anniversary days held across provinces. Mr Little said the first step was to ensure the land wars were recognised and then look at a possible public holiday. "Younger New Zealanders do feel this stuff and really want to come to terms with New Zealand's history -- all of New Zealand's history -- the good and bad. And this is a critical part of our history that perhaps we've ignored for far too long."
School principal Timoti Harris said he was proud of the efforts the students had put in. It was sparked by a visit to the battlefields in 2014. "It's been 20 months since these four sat on the side of a country road and heard a story from our old people. And when they heard the story, they said this should not be left for old people to fight." He said he was pleased with the momentum that had built behind the petition as it progressed.