The New Zealand Wars had more impact on Aotearoa than the world wars and the conflict needs to feature more in the school curriculum, says historian and campaigner Vincent O’Malley.
Mr O’Malley, the author for the Great War of New Zealand, says criticism that the topic is boring is unfounded and the young people he’s spoken to around the country understand why it is important to know about the New Zealand Wars.
“They’re really comfortable with accepting the need to embrace these difficult parts of our history as a crucial part of the process of growing up and maturing as a nation,” Mr O’Malley told TVNZ1’s Breakfast.
“These wars had a profound effect on New Zealand history, in some respects I’d argue that they were more important than World War I and World War II in terms of the impacts that they had.”
As it stands currently, Mr O’Malley says New Zealand has high-autonomy curriculum where schools and teachers decide what is taught.
This means students often leave school with no knowledge of the New Zealand Wars, information that Mr O’Malley says can help young people make sense of the world.
“The only NZ history that’s in the curriculum is in year 10 social studies, that’s something about the Treaty of Waitangi that needs to be taught.
“The story of the New Zealand Wars is really part of the story of the treaty, because the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 didn’t change everything overnight.
“In most areas, Māori continued to manage their own affairs as they always had, so really the New Zealand Wars are about a battle between two competing visions of what New Zealand was and what it could become.
“On one hand, Māori ideas or expectations of partnership, on the other hand Crown and Pakeha came to NZ and thought they would be in charge and arrived and discovered they weren’t, so the wars were about the Crown’s attempt to impose its authority over the country and to eliminate Māori rangatiratanga.”
Mr O’Malley said many modern issues such as Māori poverty cannot be understood fully without knowing about the New Zealand Wars.
“One of the examples I cite is we can’t really understand contemporary Māori poverty without understanding the background to that, which is that the NZ Wars and the subsequent land confiscations of millions of acres of land condemned generations of Māori to lives of poverty.”
“That’s something that resonates over many, many generations and we need to understand that background.”
The other important part of that story which people don’t widely appreciate is before the 1860s, before the main period of the NZ Wars, Māori were the leading drivers of the NZ economy, most of NZ’s export income was being derived from Māori and that is destroyed, almost overnight, by the course of these wars.
“That’s not widely known and widely appreciated.”