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Much to learn from our history

Opinion Piece

There was definitely some kind of synergy in two major developments, this week, appropriately timed during Maori Language Week — the announcement that New Zealand history will become a core subject in schools from 2022, and the introduction of a bill to pardon Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana.

Minister of Maori Development Nania Mahuta was in tears as she introduced the bill for its first reading. She spoke about the timeliness of the bill and the importance of Maori knowing their history, as Tuhoe elders watched from the public gallery.

Rua, a pacifist, set up a settlement at Maungapohatu in the Urewera. In 1916 it was invaded by a large government force in an attack which resulted in the death of two people including Rua’s son Toko. Rua himself was charged with sedition and, when that could not be proved, was convicted of resisting arrest and jailed for 18 months.

The attack and its aftermath were part of a series of injustices inflicted on Tuhoe which were fully described in books written by historian Judith Binney, including a biography of Rua.

His treatment was on a par in many ways with what happened to another Maori prophet, Te Whiti o Rongomai, at Parihaka in 1881.

While the Parihaka incident is widely known, the fate of Rua would be known only to a minority of interested people.

What knowledge there was in general society probably centred on the temple-like building at Maungapohatu, which was the subject of ignorant mockery.

In 2012 the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that excessive force had been used by the Crown. Thursday’s bill says the descendants of Rua have suffered lasting harm.

It is a mystery why this has taken so long. Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, who did take up arms against the Crown, was pardoned in 1883.

New Zealanders still have much to learn about this bloody part of our history.

Nania Mahuta summed it up when she said there was a long way to go to raise awareness of our shared history, but moments like this helped us to move into the future with lasting confidence.