It’s a shame that 28 October has been chosen as the new New Zealand Wars Day. This is because the day has nothing to do with the New Zealand Wars. A gathering of tribal leaders has decided that commemorations on 28 October will begin next year, 2017.
But why has this date been chosen? It’s the day, we are told, that the earlier Declaration of Independence was signed, in 1835 in the Far North, between the tribes of Ngā Puhi and a British Resident Agent, James Busby. The date has no direct reference to the New Zealand Wars.
Pākehā historians like James Belich have long argued that the wars were ‘wars of sovereignty’. This date, 28 October, clearly buys into that argument, by foregrounding the issue of Māori sovereignty, rather than choosing an actual wars date.
Māori historians, by contrast, have argued that, for Māori, te tino rangatirantanga lay in the land, and was indistinguishable from the land, and the continuing possession of it. Tribes fought, and died, to protect this.
An over-arching ‘sovereignty’ sounds fine, but for Māori it was something always grounded in the land. October 28 denies to Māori the devastating costs of those conflicts, fought for their te tino rangatirantanga, embedded in the tribal estates.
A better date might have been 17 March, when the wars started at Te Kohia, near Waitara. The Taranaki Daily News has recently published an excellent article about the Te Kohia Battle site, you can read it here : Te Kohia Battle Site .
Another date is 20 November, when Rangiriri was attacked by British forces. Rangiriri was the defining battle of the wars, where, for Māori, the wars were lost. You can read more about Rangiriri, and the Waikato Wars, here – the Battle for Rangiriri.
Or, 5 November when, say some historians, the Land Wars finally came to a close. On 5 November 1881, Parihaka was invaded and its leaders arrested. You can read more about this here – Invasion of Parihaka.
What’s in a date?
Everything. If anything, 28 October represents, not a sense of history, but modern Māori political realities, representing the state of Crown-Māori relations today which are centred on still outstanding issues of Māori autonomy, or sovereignty.
The date seems less about the wars, and more about Māori seeking constitutional or political leverage. A date more reflective of the Māori experience of those wars, with all of the hurt, dispossession, loss and devastation has been by-passed, and that is a great shame.