Call for public holiday to mark Land Wars

The Race Relations Commissioner has weighed in on talk of a potential new public holiday, suggesting a day off to mark the New Zealand Land Wars. 

"I was excited at the prospect that New Zealand may hold public holidays as a response to COVID and believes it's the right time to mark these historical events," said Meng Foon. "The New Zealand Wars are not currently marked with an official public holiday."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week said the Government was "actively considering" an extra day off to help boost the tourism industry, which has been almost obliterated by the travel restrictions and border closures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

"I've emailed the Prime Minister to explain that our national and local histories are paramount," said Foon. "Understanding the history creates a better-informed citizenry."

New Zealand only has one public holiday between the upcoming Queen's Birthday and Christmas - October's Labour Day. There are seven in the first half of each year, and most of the regions' anniversary days fall in the first six months of the year too. 

The Land Wars took place on-and-off over several decades in the 1800s, starting with a rebellion led by Hōne Heke in 1845 only five years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. They peaked in the 1860s and ended in the 1870s, but Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand says parts of the Ureweras remained off-limits to non-Māori until 1916.

Most of those killed in the battles were Māori.

Te Pūtake o te Riri is currently set aside on October 28 each year to mark the Land Wars, Foon said, but isn't a public holiday. 

"I have lobbied ministers to set in place legislation... so that the New Zealand Wars move from a local event to a public holiday. This is what iwi have long called for."

If that date was chosen, it would fall the same week as Labour Day. 

Foon says having a public holiday to mark the Land Wars would "complement increased teaching of our history in schools from 2022".

"I believe strongly in the need to teach our children to have a sound understanding of the past, and prepare them for a future built on the confidence this knowledge will bring about their history."

In 2015 when Māori leaders including Tukoroirangi Morgan and the Māori Party pushed for a public holiday to mark the wars, they were shut down by then-Prime Minister Sir John Key.

"The question is what form does it take, is it a national holiday and what would it replace. It's not as straightforward as it sounds," he told RNZ.