High-profile gathering at Waitangi as Jacinda Ardern fulfils coalition pledge opening Te Rau Aroha museum

A high-profile gathering of ministers, MPs and a Crown representative descended on Waitangi, as the Prime Minister fulfilled a coalition pledge, opening a museum dedicated to Maori soldiers. 

Jacinda Ardern was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Defence Minister Ron Mark, and a string of other high-profile MPs at the opening on Wednesday. 

Te Rau Aroha, a new museum at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, acknowledges the duty and sacrifice of Māori who served in New Zealand's armed forces. 

The museum and it was paid for by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), that provided $14.6 million to the Waitangi National Trust to construct the premises. 

Work began officially around this time last year, with the laying of mauri stones at the site.

"Here we will remember their memory," the Prime Minister said at the opening of the museum on the Treaty of Waitangi Grounds in the Bay of Islands. 

Dame Patsy Reddy, representing the Crown, said: "A new page is turning in the history of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds."

Shane Jones, a New Zealand First MP who oversees the $3 billion PGF as Regional Economic Development Minister, highlighted how establishing the museum was part of Labour's coalition agreement with New Zealand First. 

Jacinda Ardern greeting Robert ‘Bom’ Gillies – one of two remaining members of 28 (Māori) Battalion.
Jacinda Ardern greeting Robert ‘Bom’ Gillies – one of two remaining members of 28 (Māori) Battalion. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"The Government committed two years ago as part of the Coalition agreement to build a nationally significant museum to honour all Māori who served in the armed forces since 1840 in times of conflict," Jones said. 

The museum was officially opened on Wednesday morning at a ceremony that included Robert 'Bom' Gillies, one of two remaining members of 28 Māori Battalion, and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata. 

Other high-profile attendees at the ceremony included House Speaker Trevor Mallard, ministers Andrew Little, Peeni Henare, Carmel Sepuloni, James Shaw and Willie Jackson; as well as former MP Hone Harawira and Northland MP Matt King. 

The Māori activist Tama Iti was also there. 

The museum includes the stories of the New Zealand wars and South Africa's Boer War, with a strong focus on the Pioneer Battalion of WWI and the Māori Battalion. It also honours those who supported the war effort back home.

"The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the perfect place for the museum. It was here on 6 February, 1940, that the 28 Māori Battalion marched to Waitangi, just a few months before they were deployed overseas," Jones said. 

Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaking at the opening ceremony.
Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaking at the opening ceremony. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

He said it was from there that Sir Apirana Ngata - a former Minister of Māori Affairs who died in 1950 - called on them to honour the Treaty, and "make the ultimate sacrifice and serve their country". 

Dame Patsy spoke about how the Maori who chose to serve in war for New Zealand gained more equality within New Zealand society by gaining so much respect. 

But she also noted how the price was high, with Maori having a 50 percent higher casualty rate. 

Winston Peters repeated twice for emphasis: "They volunteered at a greater rate than compulsory conscription."

Defence Minister Ron Mark said: "There are many well-known warriors and warrior leaders who are part of that story. There are names we all know. But today we salute and honour every Maori service person who is part of that story."

The Prime Minister said: "We all need to have a better understanding of our country's history."

She announced late last year that New Zealand history will be taught in all Kiwi schools from 2022 - including topics on colonisation and the Treaty of Waitangi.