Hundreds gather in Waikato to mark 160 years since battle of Ōrākau

The battle of Ōrākau is considered by historians to be one of the most famous and important in the New Zealand Wars.

Tuesday marks its 160th anniversary, and although iwi lost the battle, they're remembered for their courage and refusal to surrender.

Just outside of Te Awamutu this morning, hundreds gathered at Ōrākau to commemorate 160 years since the battle.

It was this land in 1864 that was the site of a fighting pā, where around 300 Māori defended the site from more than a thousand invading British soldiers.

About 150 Māori died in the battle, compared to just 17 Brits.

"[It's the] 160th anniversary of arguably the most famous and probably the most important battle that ever took place on these shores," said historian Vincent O'Malley.

"So it's a huge day for everybody involved," he told Newshub.

Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Raukawa have been in negotiations with the Government for the return of the battle site.

Minister of Māori Development Tama Potaka was at the commemorations on Tuesday, and confirmed the whenua will be returned to hapū and iwi.

"This battle and the Crown's confiscations of millions of acres of land, marked a turning point in the story of our country," Potaka told the crowd.

Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka delivered a speech on Tuesday.
Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka delivered a speech on Tuesday. Photo credit: Newshub.

Many took the opportunity to call on the Government to learn from this history, and listen to Māori - but some still have their doubts.

"I know Tama [Potaka] heard it, and he felt it. There's no way that he's able to reiterate our feelings and his feelings… to his boss, to our Prime Minister," said te reo Māori advocate Paraone Gloyne.

"I observe, that this morning, I am close to losing my patience," said historian Tom Roa. 

"And I reflect on some of the mihi from a number of our speakers who came, still angry," he added.

Potaka believes students need to know what happened at Ōrākau.

"Every New Zealander needs to know what happened at Ōrākau, and, our other many places of battle," he said.

That's despite the coalition Government wanting to "restore balance" to the Aotearoa New Zealand Histories Curriculum.

And historians want education about the Land Wars to continue to be prioritised.

"We know that there were multiple atrocities committed here, and it was a brutal, bloody and awful affair, and I think it's time New Zealand fronted up to that history," O'Malley said.