Ka mua, ka muri

Should we feel guilty for the actions of our ancestors?  Is it time for us to put aside the wrong-doings of the past? What would that look like? and furthermore, why aren’t we taught our own history?

There was an unmissable synergy between two events I attended this weekend, held as part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.  The first was “Flowing water: A story of the Waikato river” which was written by Witi Ihimaera and composer Janet Jennings.  The Maori accounts had been devised by local historian Tom Roa who also facilitated a talk I attended, by historian and writer Vincent O’Malley about his book “The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000” (2016).

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The Battle of Rangiriri in Flowing Water.

Once you know what really happened here in the Waikato, what do you do?  Should we feel guilty for the actions of our ancestors?  In his book, Vincent O’Malley was careful to tell the story and allow the reader to make up their own mind; and likewise in “Flowing Water” we are told of the toil, losses and hardship on both sides.  As much as the Maori lost their land, the settlers offered a fresh start in a new country were often given unworkable land – with speculators profiting as a result.  History does repeat.  However, the truth remains that the Pakeha government, militia and settlers invaded the Waikato with the intention of taking land and sovereignty from the Maori.  Tom Roa shared a feeling the Maori held, which was of surprise and hurt at how events unfolded – “I thought we were friends.  I fed you.  Where did your anger come from?”  But is it fair for ancestors to feel that guilt?  No, I don’t think it is.

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The first book in over 100 years to tell the story of the Waikato.

Does progress mean putting aside the wrong-doings of the past to move on as one people?  No.  Understanding the facts of what happened and being free from blame, anger, guilt and defensiveness allows a level of progress where we might look at the harm of colonisation to Maori and where changes should be made to remedy that.  It involves recreating a more fair political, social, economic and environmental system.  We seem to be stuck in the cycle of continually relegating all progress to the Waitangi tribunal or to the Ministry of Maori development, instead of making it an issue for all New Zealanders to address.  We all need to be part of that process, which is why reluctance to make the Great War for New Zealand, a part of the school curriculum needs to change in the first instance.  If anything can give us hope it is that the rangatahi, the young people want to know the truth.  The best example of this is the advocacy done by Otorohanga school pupils to commemorate the Land Wars.  They had been surprised at their lack of knowledge of the Battle of Orakau – a short drive from their homes.  It seems we’ve accepted the Russian revolution and American civil war as taking precedence in our education.

Vincent considered himself an unlikely candidate to write a book on the New Zealand wars but chose to after becoming aware of the stories through working on treaty claims.  He believed the stories needed to be told outside of the court room.  Witi wanted to tell the story of our people – those that lived alongside the Waikato river and in doing so the story of all New Zealanders.  Their work offers us the opportunity to face the past and it’s from here we can walk backwards to the future – ka mua, ka muri.  

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Rangiriri Pa has underdone “restoration” and signage – acknowledging the battle of 1863.

I believe strongly in change starting within oneself, so I’ve made it a resolution of sorts to teach myself about Waikato history – and the damage of colonisation.  I have also enrolled in a Te Reo course, we are the kaitiaki of the language – without us it will die.  I’m hoping I will build enough confidence and ability to be able to pass on this taonga to my daughter – and use Maori words and terms as part of daily conversations.  I’ll be supporting events commemorating the wars – from Rangiriri to Orakau and understand the main commemoration will occur in 2020.  I will support and advocate for our history to be part of the NZ school curriculum as there is power in knowledge.  Finally – and in many respects the most difficult at a individual level, I intend to find how I as a relatively privileged, skilled person can help to unwrap the oppressive, unfair systems which I believe continue to see Maori over-represented in the worst of statistics.  It’s the least I can do.

This post is really an exploration of thoughts – and I don’t profess to be an expert or knowledgeable, so would love to know your thoughts, to help me understand better.

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