Northland hosts first official commemoration of NZ Land Wars

Hōne Heke cuts down the British flag above Kororāreka (Russell).
Hōne Heke cuts down the British flag above Kororāreka (Russell). Photo credit: Alexander Turnbull Library

The first official commemoration of the 19th century New Zealand Land Wars is being held in the Bay of Islands.

A mass haka expected to involve hundreds of people will start the pōwhiri at Te Tii Marae at Waitangi on Friday afternoon.

More public events are planned over the weekend, including tours of famous battle sites at Ōhaeawai, Ruapekapeka and Russell.

Pita Tipene, from the organising committee Te Komiti Whakahaere, says it's an historic event.

"It's taken a long time to officially acknowledge these wars and our early history," he says.

"It has tended to be forgotten, or wilfully ignored by some, but it is important these stories are told. Our young people and future generations need to know this history because we are moving forward as a nation."

Mr Tipene says the wars are still affecting Ngāpuhi today, particularly as the iwi attempts to come together to coordinate a treaty settlement.

"These wars weren't just between Ngāpuhi and the British imperial forces - there were just as many Māori on the British side as there were on the Māori side.

"Some of the fracturing of relationships in 2018 are still apparent because of fractures in relationships in 1845-46, so those aspects of our history need to be understood."

The event follows a 2015 petition from Ōtorohanga College students, signed by 13,000 people, that called for the Government to set aside a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars.

It led to the Māori Party securing an annual fund of $1 million for national and regional events through its support deal with the previous National Government.

The national commemoration will be hosted by a different iwi each year, with half of the yearly fund set aside for that event.