Saturday, 25 May 2013

Waikato - The Forgotten War Anniversary?


New Zealand is gearing up to commemorate a number of significant anniversaries concerning our involvement in foreign wars over the next few years – the centenary of the outbreak of World War One next year, Gallipoli on 25 April 2015 and so on through to 1918. But does that willingness to commemorate wars extend to those fought closer to home?

The Lottery Grants Board has set aside $17 million to mark the World War One centenary in a multitude of ways. There are websites, a major new multi-volume history of New Zealand’s involvement in the war, memorials, the usual raft of ministers and dignitaries visiting Gallipoli and elsewhere, besides a range of community initiatives and projects.

On 12 July this year it will be the 150th anniversary of the invasion of Waikato, a conflict rightly described by Alan Ward as the ‘climactic event in New Zealand race relations’ history. Waikato was the largest and most significant of the New Zealand Wars fought between 1845 and 1872. British victory, limited though this may have been, decided the fate of the country thereafter: there would be no concessions to rangatiratanga, no partnership with iwi, just unbridled Crown sovereignty, at least for the next century or so.

For Waikato Maori, their losses during the war, including painful incidents such as the deliberate torching of whare at Rangiaowhia in which many people burned to death, and atrocities committed at Orakau and elsewhere, are remembered to this day. And so too is the confiscation of more than 1.2 million acres of Waikato land. Although the 1995 Tainui settlement addressed these grievances, Waikato Maori received in compensation just a tiny fraction of what had been lost to them.

So the Waikato War was a crucial time in this nation’s history. What plans are there to mark the occasion? Well, it has not been entirely ignored. The 150th anniversary of the Waikato War is listed as a ‘major event’ requiring a co-ordinated approach between agencies on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage website. And meanwhile the descendants of Maori who fought at Orakau have formed their own Orakau Memorial Heritage Society with a view to planning the 150th anniversary commemoration of that battle next March (and with longer-term plans for a memorial and visitors centre). It is to be hoped that their efforts achieve appropriate recognition and assistance from the Crown.

But just a few months out from the start of the Waikato War, it is difficult to discern what the government’s ‘co-ordinated approach’ to marking this anniversary is going to be. Of course it is right and proper to commemorate the First World War. But it is also important to ensure that Waikato does not become the forgotten war anniversary. So where exactly is the programme of events?