Unveiling of grave marker at Ruapekapeka

Ki ngā toa ka takoto ki te Pō

takoto, takoto

tēnā tātou katoa.

Ki te Mana Whenua

tēnā koutou.

Ki te manuhiri tūārangi

nau mai, haere mai.

Huri noa, huri noa. Tēnā tātou katoa.

The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor General of New Zealand; Her Excellency Laura Clarke, British High Commissioner to New Zealand; Pita Tipene, interim chair of Te Ruapekapeka Trust and its trustees, my fellow Ministers and Members of Parliament; esteemed guests and decedents here today: welcome.

I want to begin by echoing our Governor General’s acknowledgement of Mr Allan Halliday whose absence is so keenly felt today. Allan was a man of great generosity and selflessness. He put so much of himself into these commemorations. I hope he would be proud of today.

And so too I begin by acknowledging all the hard work that has gone into Ruapekapeka 175 by the Trust and by Ngāti Manu, Te Ka potai, Ngāti Hau and Ngāti Hine.

Over the past month you have held events that have honoured all those who fought on both sides at Te Ruapekapeka, including the women and children who fought on the front line and supported the fighting throughout.

But today, we continue to honour those who fought so valiantly at this pā.

Some of the stories of Ruapekapeka have become legendary: of children inside the pā defusing enemy shells before they could detonate; of the abandonment of the pā as a trap for attacking forces; and of this remarkable and masterful structure, that was finally set ablaze, the smoke and glow seen for miles around.

But in remembering the legends out of the Battle of Ruapekapeka, we will not lose sight of the real cost: of those who died, here, fighting in this field.

We remember the approximately twenty Māori and twelve British fatal casualties of the battle.

And we must do our best to remember them, not as numbers, but as people who died in a bloody struggle.

They are who we commemorate today. And they are who lie before us: who lay unmarked for so many years.

As part of the wider events we are here specifically to mark the place where twelve British soldiers, sailors, and marines were laid to rest at the conclusion of the Battle of Ruapekapeka, 175 years ago.

But the broader significance of this commemoration, and the greater loss of Ruapekapeka, is recognised in the text engraved in the stone: He Rua Whakautu mō te Riri – In Remembrance of the Conflict.

I wish to acknowledge the whanaunga of Ruapekapeka, who have embraced the memory of these twelve, even as your ancestors bore such terrible loss here, and throughout Aotearoa’s internal conflicts.

That act in itself speaks truly of reference, of remembrance, of peace.

I wish also to thank Jonathan Carpenter and his team of archaeologists, whose years of work culminated in this extraordinary discovery. You have added another page to our nation’s history.

There can be a tendency in New Zealand to underplay our history: to say that ours did not happen on the scale of other countries around the world, and that somehow scale has some bearing on significance. That view is wrong.

James Belich famously wrote of the New Zealand Wars: ‘These were not storms in a teacup or gentlemanly bouts of fisticuffs. These were bitter and bloody struggles, as important to New Zealand as were the Civil Wars to England and the United States.’

As a country, we’ve long commemorated battles abroad as being foundational to who we are as a nation – but what could be more foundational to who we are than what happened here, on this whenua.

Let us teach it, let us learn it and let us remember it. Let us share our history with every student in every school and kura so that students are aware of how our country and identity have been shaped by key moments in our past – moments such as this, the Battle of Ruapekapeka.

For when we fully understand the many paths of our ancestors, we build an Aotearoa New Zealand that better understands itself. Let that be a lasting legacy of 175 years of Ruapekapeka.

Titiro atu ki te taumata o te moana…tākiri ko te ata

(Look beyond the configurations on the horizon)

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.