TOotearoa New Zealand has come a long way in recent years in its efforts to engage with its history in a more direct and honest way. For those of us who have campaigned for such a change, this is not ahead of time.
This new willingness to go beyond a rose-tinged approach to the nation’s past in which anything uncomfortable or deemed to reflect poorly on the Pākehā (European) majority is rejected and ignored, has required considerable effort and still it is a work in progress.
Facing the often bloody and brutal realities of Maori colonial dispossession has come as a shock to many non-Maori New Zealanders brought up to believe that they lived in a country with the largest “race relations” in the world. A more solid and truthful understanding of that history depends largely on the educational system. And while there is good news on this front, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the campaign has been long and at times difficult.
In September 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand history would be taught in all schools starting in 2022. It felt like a momentous decision given the abundant evidence that most students dropped out of school having had little or no exposure to the history of your own country. Generations of New Zealanders had grown up without even a basic awareness of the pivotal moments in the nation’s past, unable to understand how events like the New Zealand wars of the 19th century and subsequent land confiscations resonated today in myriad ways, even in the past. often dire socio-social situations. economic statistics for Maori communities across the country.
The prime minister’s announcement followed a campaign launched five years earlier by a group of students from Ōtorohanga College, a small rural high school in King Country, about a 20-minute drive from where some of the bloodiest and most brutal battles in the country took place. the 1863-64 decade. The Waikato War took place. After visiting some of these sites on a school trip in 2014, students returned to class dismayed that they had not learned anything from this story earlier. They vowed to take action, successfully calling for a national day of commemoration, now marked October 28, for the victims of New Zealand’s wars and for this story to be taught in all schools.
Naturally, attention turned to that request when it came to understanding the background to the September 2019 decision, which followed a long period of opposition to compulsory education in New Zealand history by politicians and education officials. . But it turns out there was a now little-known earlier request for New Zealand history to be taught, again led by a student at the school.
In 1992, Arlana Delamere was in her senior year of high school at Green Bay High School in Auckland. Students who chose to take history as part of the seventh-year (now year 13) syllabus were offered two options: Tudor and Stuart England or 19th-century New Zealand. Except in many cases, the decision had already been made by their schools, which offered a choice of English history or nothing.
Arlana’s father and future cabinet minister, Tuariki John Delamere, was working in Wellington as a negotiations manager in the Waitangi Treaty Policy Unit when he received a phone call from his upset daughter.
“She was in her last year of high school in Auckland. And she wants to study New Zealand history and she found out that she couldn’t, she could only study British history, and she was quite outraged by that. She thought this was bullshit. “
Tuariki readily agreed. He convinced Arlana that they should file a claim with the Waitangi Court, the body charged with deciding whether the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi has been violated, on his behalf.
The claim to the history curriculum was filed in April 1992. It states that ‘Aotearoa’s story is a taonga [treasure] in the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi and that its teaching must take precedence over the teaching of the history of any other country ”.
Arlana further added that “it is my right as a person of Maori descent, as indeed I believe it is the right of all students at Aotearoa, to have the option to be taught the history of Aotearoa as the main focus of the Aotearoa study program. history rather than the history of another country. ‘
Failure to teach this, it was noted, had sparked feelings of whakamā (shame or shame) among Maori at the bottom of the socioeconomic rung, the victims of widespread hostility directed at them by non-Maori who did not understand what it was. the story of Aotearoa.
Nearly thirty years later, the Waitangi Court has yet to consider the claim, although both she and her father say that has not stopped the Crown from trying to say that it has been resolved as part of broader tribal claims.
Referring to the Prime Minister’s 2019 announcement, Arlana says “I love it. I think to end racism, to help broken people today, you have to learn history. You have to have all the facts in front of you. “
Tuariki agrees and describes the movement as enormously transformative. But he adds that if things go wrong with the implementation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s new stories curriculum, the Arlana Treaty claim is still there, ahead of its time and now “hugely relevant”, even after being ignored and forgotten for over a period of time. all those years.
Much depends on the success of this new curriculum and its implementation. The 1992 claim serves as one more reminder that significant social change often does not happen overnight and that early advocates of transformation can sometimes be overlooked when it finally does occur.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism