Petition calls for Land Wars Remembrance Day

(Simon Wong / 3 News)
(Simon Wong / 3 News)

Hundreds of people descended on Parliament's front lawn today calling for a public holiday to commemorate those who died in the New Zealand Land Wars.

A petition started by Otorohanga College students and with around 10,000 signatures was handed over after a ceremony and spirited and rousing haka this afternoon.

The group was met by a parliamentary delegation with MPs from Labour, National, the Greens and the Maori Party.

"New Zealand cannot afford to forget the ultimate sacrifice of the soldiers and warriors on the plains, coasts, hilltops and valleys of our great nation," the petition says.

The idea has some support from politicians, with Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry telling those gathered it was time to consider the proposal, given it is a milestone commemoration of the start of World War I.

"I feel it is time to consider very strongly your request," she says.

"It is one thing to remember, it is one thing sign deeds of settlement, but it is not done when the ink is dry. That is only the beginning of the next stage of the relationship."

Ms Barry said she'd take the proposal to Cabinet and caucus and talk to her officials about what form the commemorations could take.

One person she'd have to convince is her boss, Prime Minister John Key, who would be against an additional public holiday, though it could be possible the commemoration would replace an existing one.

"I just haven't looked at the issue in any great depth. I haven't got any advice and I'm not even sure what holiday you'd want to change," he says.

He also didn't think the idea would be "massively supported".

"You don't always have to have a public holiday on a particular day to recognise there were very significant issues that happened in the history of New Zealand. We reflect the significance of those when we apologise as part of the Treaty settlement process, which we always do."

Labour leader Andrew Little says the wars need to be recognised officially before any decision is made on a public holiday.

"We are at a time where more and more New Zealanders are more comfortable with coming to terms with our history – both the good and the bad – and this is something we ought to come to terms with. There was a large loss of life during the establishment phase of our country and we should be making an appropriate commemoration."

AUT historian Paul Moon says the petition to commemorate the wars is "long overdue".

While New Zealand commemorates wars in other countries, it "turns a blind eye to monumental nation-forming events that took place in our own backyard", he says.

Up to 25,000 people were killed during the Musket Wars, Heke's campaign and the Land Wars in the 1800s.

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