Vincent O’Malley: Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa – WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View 2019

If you went to high school here in Aotearoa New Zealand and studied history in your final Year 13 or 7th form year, you are more likely to have studied British history (specifically, Tudor and Stuart British history) than the history of this country.

But why is that? Certainly, things are changing, but there is still a majority of high schools where teachers are choosing foreign history over local stories. And that was exactly why Vincent O’Malley was here to talk about.

Brought to Christchurch as part of WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View, Vincent was originally going to be talking about the New Zealand Wars (the period between 1845 and 1872) with local historian Mike Stevens, but due to a bereavement this became a lecture instead.

Vincent O'Malley 
New Zealand historian Vincent O'Malley

This was an introduction to O’Malley himself (a man who started off as a cleaner at Canterbury University, chose to do a New Zealand History paper as a ‘filler’ paper to complete his timetable, and who with that one course fell in love with the history of this country), and about why many of us don’t understand our history. Many of us, especially those who were not brought up in te ao Māori, or with Māori ancestors, were not taught what happened earlier on in this country, and even at the heights of the Treaty Claims, when we could have learnt more about what had happened to Māori-owned land around the country, local iwi talked straight to the lawyers and representatives of the Crown, so others in society didn’t know what was going on. As with anything, you don’t know what you don’t know, and when you don’t know what’s being discussed, then you don’t know what you don’t know about it.

O’Malley also talked about changing attitudes to the New Zealand Wars over time. In the past, they’ve been referred to as ‘The Māori Wars’ and ‘The Land Wars’, but neither of these is accurate – ‘Māori Wars’ ignores any non-Māori who were killed during this time, and ‘Land Wars’ isn’t right either, because this fighting wasn’t just about land, but about a raft of issues. Even the title ‘New Zealand Wars’ isn’t completely accurate, as large numbers of those fighting weren’t New Zealanders, but British or Irish.

With this much confusion over what we’re going to call this time period of New Zealand history, the fact there are only limited teaching resources, and an (incorrect) belief among older people that Aotearoa New Zealand history is ‘boring’, is it any surprise that teachers don’t feel confident to teach it?

Thankfully though, things are changing. As O’Malley pointed out, “young people get why [New Zealand] history is important [and] how it’s relevant to them” – they WANT to learn where they come from, and what has happened in the past, so they can learn from and avoid repeating any mistakes. Certainly, New Zealand students are all learning more about ANZAC Day, and Waitangi, but there’s more to us than that. There are (slowly) more resources being created to teach about our history – O’Malley himself has written his new book The New Zealand Wars Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa as a short, accessible resource for senior secondary students, or for adults wanting an introduction to this topic. He has also made an effort to include information about tikanga Māori and the role of women in the book, two topics which are often left out, and which help to provide a more complete view of the time.

It was a fascinating introduction to how little we recognise the events that have shaped our country, and concluded with O’Malley’s three tips for helping New Zealanders to understand our history:

  1. Look after the locations where historical events take place. People can go there, and be linked to the events and history that occur there.
  2. Be more consistent about teaching our history in schools.
  3. Create and provide more resources for adults, so we can break the cycle of not knowing where we come from.

So, how are you going to learn more about Aotearoa New Zealand’s past?

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Vincent O'Malley

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WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

WORD Christchurch presents Shifting Points of View — a spectacular line-up of New Zealand and international speakers to warm you up and get you thinking. Shifting Points of View runs from Sunday 18 August to Saturday 14 September 2019. Visit our page on WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View for more information, previews, reviews, and WORD reading.

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