A Waikato history teacher believes Kiwis need to learn about the New Zealand Wars as part of the national curriculum.
And he’s got the backing of a top historian, who says we need to stop choosing the good bits of our history and learn our past "warts and all".
Every year, history students at St Paul’s Collegiate learn about the Waikato campaigns of the Land Wars, from Governor George Grey’s attack on the Kingitanga, the invasion of Rangiaowhia and the defeat at Ōrākau.
The term is topped off with a hikoi exploring the historic land sites around the region.
It’s important the students know and understand the history of their area, history teacher Defyd Williams says.
"But it’s more important to know where we come from, where we are going and who we are – those are the big questions of history."
Williams said the subject could be taught at a Year 9 or 10 level, similar to the Treaty of Waitangi or be made compulsory under the history subject.
"It’s not so much about being compulsory for all schools, but more an obligation," he said. "We need an honest approach. We can't just look at the 'good bits' of our history."
Under the Ministry of Education, Māori history or land wars are not compulsory in schools and kura.
In 2016, the National Government refused to include the New Zealand Wars in the national curriculum. However, a national day was introduced, recognising the 19th-century New Zealand Wars on October 28.
Historian Vincent O'Malley, who recently completed a new book on the topic said teaching the New Zealand Wars in school was "common sense".
"This history is too important to leave to individual schools to decide whether they will teach it," he said. "And this is something that rangatahi themselves, both Māori and Pākehā, are calling for."
He said there needs to be guidelines to ensure all children leave school with some understanding of how these conflicts shaped our nation.
"We can debate the practicalities of how this might happen. But for me, the principle is just common sense. We need to know our own history, and we need to own our own history, warts and all. It’s what a mature nation does."
This week, Williams and Year 12 history students travelled around the Waikato, from north Waikato at Rangiriri, to Turangawaewae Marae, then to Rangiaowhia and onto Ōrākau, Kihikihi and Alexandra Redoubt.
St Paul’s Collegiate has been running field trips on the Waikato Wars for more than 20 years, Williams said.
"It’s a bit of an eye-opener for the students. We have students that find out some of their ancestors were involved in the wars, on the Māori or the Pakeha side."
Student Molly Clements said the trip was insightful and something that can't be taught inside a classroom or found online.
"We've heard some in-depth stories. I've learned it’s not possible to have one story for everything – there’s many sides and views of the truth.
She believes it’s important every student in the Waikato learns about the land wars.
"We live here, we should all know our history. It’s our duty. Even if we're not from here, we're still here at this time and need to be a part of it."
Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta said she supports more effort to build local content in the curriculum but said there were limits on the ready availability of people and our resources to do so.
This month, the Waikato is also hosting the New Zealand History Teachers Association conference. Guest speakers include Vincent O'Malley, Professor Glyn Harper and Jane Tolerton.
"It is a bit different this year, rather than people sitting in four walls listening to people all day, we'll be out for one whole day learning about the Waikato Land Wars," Williams said.
"Our hopes are for teachers to say, how can we take this and do this in Taranaki? And it starts with connecting with your local iwi and getting that narrative, that’s important."
O'Malley was looking forward to the conference.
"It will be a great opportunity to talk about how we can achieve real change around awareness and teaching of these conflicts and their place in New Zealand history. I'm looking forward to it greatly."
Photo Caption: St Paul’s Collegiate Head of History Defyd Williams said the NZ Land Wars are an important part of NZ history, saying "we need an honest approach. We can't just look at the 'good bits' of our history."