Narrating the Monocultural Nation
The early twentieth century period also saw an embryonic ‘New Zealand’ identity begin to form amongst the settlers, albeit one firmly nested within a patriotic allegiance to and identification with the British Empire. With Māori no longer considered a threat, the Pākehā state invested itself in national story-telling, or a ‘cultural colonisation’ (Gibbons, 2002) that positioned Māori and the history of colonial violence in ways that supported a monocultural Pākehā hegemony. In literary culture, this was the era of ‘Māoriland literature’, as Jane Stafford and Mark Williams (2006, p. 11) argue, a literature that ‘denies what it seems to state: that New Zealand is a land belonging properly to Māori’. Rather, Māori were positioned as the nation’s past to provide a ‘mythologised or decorative presence’ (ibid, 20) in the Pākehā nation.
Selective remembering and forgetting (on the part of the settler community) of nineteenth century state-directed invasions of Māori communities was central to the construction of this embryonic national identity. In her research on the involvement and effects of the wars on the Māori and Pākehā children of the time, Jeanine Graham (2002, p. 217) argues that the post-war period established attitudes on both sides that were resistant to subsequent change. While many Māori children of the era would have been raised on the memories of the violence and injustice that played out in inter-tribal relations as well as a broad mistrust of the settler society, for Pākehā children, in contrast, their community’s desire to forget and put this problematic past behind them quickly established a widespread ignorance of the significance of these conflicts (Graham, 2002, pp. 223–224). By the early twentieth century the reframing of the history of conflict into a tale of unity was evident. Even though warfare had continued in the North Island until 1872, ‘50 years of peace’ were celebrated in 1914 on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1864 battle of Ōrākau (O’Malley, 2016: 18). The New Zealand Herald at the time explained the significance of this battle as ‘the final acceptance of the British mana by a heroic and warlike native people’ (cited in O’Malley, 2016, p. 17). By the time of the 1925 film Rewi’s Last Stand, a mythologised rendition of Ōrākau that became part of the School Film Library catalogue, proclaimed that ‘the slowly blending races of white men and brown live in peace and equality as one people… the New Zealanders’ (O’Malley, 2016, p. 23).
At the same time, New Zealand history was taught in schools, albeit as a regional subset of a British nationality and celebration of empire. In Our Nation’s Story (Britain being the nation), a popular set of history texts in the early twentieth century, the violence of the nineteenth century was not forgotten so much as narratively resolved in tales of mutual admiration for the valour of each side forged through these conflicts. This violent past was represented as settled and as having led to equality and friendship between the ‘races’. The culpability of the Pākehā side as instigators of conflict, and the material, psychic and cultural costs for Māori of their subjection were crucially ‘forgotten’. In the Standard V (now Year 7) volume, the nineteenth century wars were described as ‘a fire in the fern’ (Our Nation's Story, n.d. p. 26), a natural disaster with no human agent to blame. And in the Standard VI (Year 8) volume, the recounting of the wars ends: ‘Today [Māori and Pākehā] live side by side as friends and fellow-citizens, loving the land whose broad and fertile acres support them both’ (Our Nation's Story, n.d. p. 50), completely erasing the seizure of Māori lands that followed the wars and the relegation of Māori communities to marginal lands and subsistence livelihoods. This narration continued well into the twentieth century, with Our Country’s Story (1963), the successor to Our Nation’s Story, stating there was ‘no country in the world where two races of different colour live together with more goodwill towards each other’ (cited in O’Malley & Kidman, 2018, p. 305).
Overall, ‘New Zealanders’ in this period, in stark contrast to the realities of colonial atrocities such as at Rangiaowhia, were encouraged to believe that the courage and respect demonstrated by both sides, and their ‘honourable adherence to the outcome of a fair fight’ (Nairn & McCreanor, 1991, p. 248), laid the foundations for relations of friendship between Māori and Pākehā (O’Malley & Kidman, 2018, p. 305). In Aroha Harris’s (2019) terms, this narration of national unity ‘gave us the myth of the benevolent coloniser and the bold but ultimately defeated and eventually assimilated Indigenous people’. Stories of the New Zealand Wars were thereby funnelled into a discourse that legitimated Pākehā domination, framing settlers as moral and noble and the rightful inheritors of Māori lands and authority. As Giselle Byrnes (2009, p. 5) describes it, Māori ‘appeared as stage hands or curtain-raisers to the main theatrical performance of European arrival and settlement’.
Narrating Bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand Through Bifurcating Histories
Although selective remembering and forgetting of the New Zealand Wars supported the new national narrative of peace and unity, iwi and hapū nationwide continued to remember nineteenth century injustices and sought to have them remedied throughout the twentieth century (for example via the Sim Commission of 1926–1927). Ultimately, Māori activism of the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Land March of 1975 and the annual protests at Waitangi, finally brought darker memories about New Zealand’s ‘settlement’ into wider public consciousness. Matiu Rata, as the MP for Northern Māori at the time, was able to shepherd the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal through the Labour government. Initially only able to hear claims relating to contemporary issues, under the next Labour government of 1984–1990 the powers of the Tribunal were extended to encompass historical conflicts and Treaty breaches. Thus iwi and hapū perspectives and experiences of nineteenth century conflicts were again brought to the attention of government. Since that time, successive governments have pursued policies of Treaty settlement that have involved new narrations of nineteenth century history. For example, the 1995 Crown apology to Waikato Tainui officially abandoned accounts of the Waikato War beginning with ‘native aggression towards well-intentioned settlers’ (Hanly, quoted in Stewart, 2018, p. 76) and conceded that the government had unfairly labelled Waikato as ‘rebels’ and unjustly invaded their territory (O’Malley, 2016, p. 11).
During this same period, courses in New Zealand history began to appear in the universities, spearheaded by the work of Keith Sinclair and Bill Oliver. Byrnes (2009, p. 6) argues that these two ‘legitimised’ New Zealand history as a topic ‘worthy of scholarly inquiry’. Thus from the 1960s onwards, and also propelled by the rise of feminism and civil rights movements, local and social histories proliferated in the universities and in scholarly—and popular—texts.
Alongside these proliferating Treaty and academic histories however, it is arguable that the popular imaginary of the national narrative has not moved on in the same ways—as evident in the continuation of the ‘peaceful settlement’ discourse noted earlier. Tribunal histories have been largely a matter between the Crown and the iwi concerned, leaving the general Pākehā population uninformed about historical grievances and the reasons behind Māori receiving redress through Treaty settlements (Bell, 2006, p. 259). This public disconnection from ‘unforgotten’ histories means that the ongoing impacts of colonisation remain understood as Māori, not Pākehā, problems.
The development of a national narrative of biculturalism since the 1970s has also, seemingly paradoxically, been largely inimical to any general reconsideration of the nation’s colonial history of violence. While this period has been important in highlighting the resilience and distinctiveness of Māori culture despite widespread assimilationist practices, it has tended to assert the ‘equality’ and ‘separateness’ of Māori and Pākehā cultures and communities (Bell, 2006, p. 258). Museums and heritage sites, for example, have presented the two remembered histories independently of each other, avoiding explicit indications of overlap (Huygens, 2018, p. 265). An example is the bifurcation between the Māori and ‘Passports’ exhibitions in the initial organisation of the national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, from its opening in 1998. This bifurcation of Māori and Pākehā histories facilitated the ongoing ‘forgetting’ of colonial battles and their aftermath (Bell, 2006, p. 258), constituting a biculturalism in which Māori and Pākehā histories are narrated separately, maintaining the colonial ‘non-encounter’ (Veracini, 2011, p. 2).
In recent times however, there is an increasing turn towards public ‘remembering’ of the conflicts of the nineteenth century. A number of museum exhibitions have been mounted centring on the nineteenth century wars, including the Taranaki War exhibition at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth in 2010, marking the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in the region, and the Auckland Museum’s 2020 exhibition, Stand in Peace: Exploring the New Zealand Wars. The new history curriculum is a significant marker of this turn, given its nationwide reach and the impact it will have on generations of New Zealand school children from 2022. The new curriculum will also spur the development of a proliferation of new resources, an impetus already evident in Radio New Zealand’s The Aotearoa History Show (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGyiIcb-T6kQ_KNpfG6ehVA) and New Zealand Wars podcast and video series (https://www.rnz.co.nz/nzwars). How these new rememberings will respond to the challenges laid down by historians such as Gibbons, Byrne and Mahuika, and navigate the ‘unsettling’ and emotional responses of teachers and students to maximise the visions of the developers and policy makers remains to be seen. In the final section of this paper, we draw on and expand on the possibilities of histories of mourning as canvassed above to suggest a number of guiding orientations to the narrating of ‘New Zealand’ histories.
Narrating ‘New Zealand’ as a Question
The new history curriculum is a profoundly significant development that will expose all young New Zealanders to New Zealand histories. There are many notable features of the current draft curriculum that suggest it has been explicitly designed with the critiques of previous versions of narrating the nation in mind. The curriculum name, ‘Aotearoa New Zealand Histories’, points to the incorporation of multiple histories, rather than a singular national narrative to be told. And the three big ideas around which the curriculum is organised are clearly aimed to avoid past tendencies of Pākehā-centrism and uncritical celebration of national unity:
Māori history is the foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Colonisation and its consequences have been central to our history for the past two hundred years and continue to influence all aspects of New Zealand society.
The course of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power. (Ministry of Education, 2021, p. 2)
Explicit teaching of the nineteenth century violence that tore apart the society of the time to enforce Pākehā hegemony is reserved for the final Years 9 and 10 classes (Ministry of Education, 2021, p. 5). The challenge will be how to teach this difficult history while resisting the impulse towards tidy resolutions that mirror the colonial narratives of earlier eras, and in a way that can overcome the emotional resistances and disavowals that many students (and teachers themselves), particularly Pākehā as the inheritors of historical colonial privilege, may struggle with. Inclusion of these founding violences of the nineteenth century in the new history curriculum was at the heart of the student petition that catalysed curriculum change and is at the heart of our concerns in this paper. In another paper, Elizabeth Russell (2022, forthcoming) addresses the issue of the emotional responses of, particularly Pākehā, students to learning this difficult history, arguing that teachers can productively work with, rather than try to sidestep, the discomforting emotions of students as they ‘remember’ this troubling history, and pointing to ways in which emotions can be productive and transformative rather than blocks to new learning. Here, we want to conclude by exploring further the possibilities of mourning as a powerful and productive orientation to our histories that can support the transformative new understandings the curriculum developers hope for.
To mourn is to grieve for loss—the loss of life, property and way of life that the violences of colonisation meant for Māori, the loss of origin/roots and of innocence for Pākehā, the loss of alternative possibilities evident in some of the early contacts and agreements in our national story. But mourning has its risks. Mourning can be melancholic (Crewe, 2017) or nostalgic (Stow, 2017), mourning the loss of a past hegemony or for ‘the restoration of an imagined past’ (Stow, 2017, p. 150, cited in Pool, 2019, p. 431). Mourning as caring (for our ancestors, for each other in the present, and for the future), in Connerton’s terms, cannot be any of these things. Rather, we follow Stephen Turner’s (1999, p. 23) argument, directed at Pākehā in particular, that ‘there is a need for national mourning, to grieve for the loss entailed in [colonial] settlement in order to embrace the difference of place’. This would be a mourning that involves facing the past in its complexity rather than tidying it up.
Simon Stow (2017, pp. 61–62, cited in Pool, 2019, p. 430), writing about US histories and mourning, calls for a ‘tragic public mourning […] predicated on a worldview that is pluralistic in outlook, critical and self-consciously political’ and ‘seeks to generate ambivalence in its audience’. Similarly, Olga Taxidou (2004, p. 98) argues for mourning in which ‘loss is transformed into knowledge and critique’ and for mourning that ‘becomes the site where the subject-in-the-making is confronted with the polis-in-the-making’ (Taxidou, 2004, p. 187). These visions of critical mourning suggest opening up the past as a means to inquire into the present and the future, to celebrate the achievements and survivals and to grieve the shortcomings and mistakes of history as a means to reflect on how we might move forward differently. They suggest also interrogating the nation (and nation-state) as a question and a process-in-the-making, rather than a settled achievement.
Critical mourning of necessity involves a confrontation with the differences woven through the nation’s history and present. In a powerful sense, a critical mourning of our past would enable Pākehā to finally ‘arrive’ here, by overcoming their/our ‘denial of the experience of contact’ (Turner, 1999, p. 35). It would involve embracing the difference of Māori experience and of Aotearoa as a Māori country. Here we are reminded of Lorenzo Veracini’s (2011, p. 2) observation that settler colonialism is characterised as a ‘non-encounter’, in that the settler refuses and denies their relationship and interdependence with indigenous communities. The new national history curriculum, in contrast, centring Māori history and frontfooting Māori experience of place, is an opportunity for encounter, and for Pākehā (and all non-Māori) to finally ‘arrive’.
Critical histories of mourning involve viewing the past as complex, without clear cut ‘goodies and baddies’, but acknowledging the complex intertwinements of Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākehā that have been at times mutually enriching as well as destructive and dominating. Such recognition of the complexity of our communities and their historical relations must be held in tension with the question of the (il)legitimacy of Pākehā hegemony. Critical histories of mourning are not tidy, but it is this very complexity that can make history a compelling and lively subject for students. We need histories, Aroha Harris (2019) argues, that can ‘comfortably [and at times, uncomfortably] hold differences in tension with each other’.
Dame Anne Salmond (in Warne, 2020, emphases added; also see Te Punga Somerville, 2018) has called for a ‘whakapapa approach to history’, as an approach that can hold diversity and tensions together:
If we [...] gave our children a view of the world that starts with the beginning of the cosmos and celebrates the long period that these islands were inhabited by birds and reptiles and trees and so on, and gave them a sense of kinship with that, and then let them see their own ancestors arriving in successive migrations, you bind them into that story.
And if our ancestors—any of them—did dreadful things, you don’t censor it, you don’t try to make it pretty, you tell the story. The kaumātua I know do that. They don’t varnish the narrative. Then you’re left to make up your mind. It’s not preaching. You don’t tell people what moral position to take. You tell the story.
And the way it’s told is not on the basis of binary hatred, but rather that this is what happened. The heartbreak of that. We’re still living with that legacy. That history hasn’t emerged and hasn’t been dealt with. [...] I think we’re small enough and interconnected enough to do that here and not put ourselves into opposing camps and throw rocks at each other, and think that’s a good way to run our country.
In this interview, Salmond also emphasizes that whakapapa are place-based and stresses the importance of local histories and local expertise being centred in the telling of history. We welcome this local emphasis in the draft curriculum for the rich possibilities it offers for the teaching of diverse and intricately entwined histories and for the way it resonates with the scholarship on the importance of place-based learning. Local histories are powerful ways to bring history to life for students. As Rachel Buchanan (2009, p. 264) has noted:
The big picture of colonisation is important; it needs to be examined, acknowledged and rectified. But zoom in and this reality blurs, dissolves, fractures and explodes. Spin the lens to close up on any corner of your family, your neighbourhood, your city, your nation, and a different picture emerges, one that is more complex, one that can not deny "the experience of contact", one in which forgetting is replaced by a rich, complicated and binding experience of entanglement. A more ethical future starts with a more ethical past, the sort that might be found in intimate histories, in crooked little family portraits.
To teach a critical history of mourning, teachers do not need to have all the answers or the end of the story, but will need to have the questions and an ability to hold those questions open and to encourage openness—and care—in their students. If a critical mourning is to be the basis of a new unity, it must be a unity built on diversity and disagreement, and a willingness to stay in relation with each other. This fits with Renan’s argument that the nation is a ‘daily plebiscite’, a daily commitment to each other and the community-in-process. And as Salmond says, in a whakapapa view ‘it’s what you give, not what you hold on to, that makes you wealthy. And being in a state where your relationships are in some form of balance’.