In a healthy relationship you celebrate your successes – you don’t memorialize your conflicts. That is why a national day to commemorate lives lost in the land wars in New Zealand is not a good idea. There is a real risk that it will not build unity (kotahitanga). Rather it may simply reserve a space in our national calendar around which grievance will coalesce and contention will fester. On both sides.
In a healthy relationship you do your best to face your failures and conflicts. Difficult conversations are had. Apologies are offered. Actions are taken to put things right. Forgiveness is offered. Reconciliation is achieved and whilst lessons are learned, both parties put things behind them and move forward to better things.
This is the dynamic of a healthy relationship. In New Zealand we are building a strong relationship between Maori and Pakeha based on this dynamic. It is called the Treaty settlements process. The process is not perfect and has still to be completed. However it is a journey that has been undertaken in good faith and engaged in honourably by both sides. A Land Wars Day threatens to divert that journey by freezing our focus on conflicts that need to be put behind us.
Yes we need to know our history and yes our children need to be taught about our past conflicts. However those lessons are for the history books and the classroom. They are not for a national day of commemoration. Besides, we already have such a day. It marks those times when we stood together against a common enemy. The times when we united to fight facism and injustice. That is something worth remembering together. Our battles against each other are not. They are something we need to deal with, put right, and put behind us.
It was Otorohanga College students whose petition seeking a Land Wars Day is now being considered by the Maori Affairs Select Committee (make a submission here). Their efforts should be applauded. Their interest in our history and engagement in our political process is absolutely commendable. However to build kotahitanga in New Zealand, a more fruitful focus might be how to make Waitangi Day more truly the celebration that it should be. That is when we started our journey together. It is worth remembering.