Former Labour Cabinet Minister Hon. Dr Michael Bassett writing in David Farrar's right-wing Kiwiblog seems to question whether we should make NZ history compulsory in schools. He thinks there's a danger it will idealise Māori society, and make Pākehā feel guilty—a "bleeding heart version of our history."
He seeks to correct the picture by de-idealising Māori society, stating that it was in a state of constant warfare, while Pākehā governors, politicians and settlers merely (my emphasis) "cut corners" to acquire Māori land.
"It needs to be remembered," he wrote, "that while the wars of the 1860s did terrible damage to what remained of the Maori economy, much damage had already been done to it by other Maori before the colonists arrived."
He conceded, however, that most damage was from when Māori acquired muskets when "Maori were killed, eaten or enslaved. This was approximately 25% of all Maori in the country at that time. More lost their lives during the Musket Wars than all the Kiwis killed in World Wars One and Two combined."
Visualise that! More Māori were killed, eaten or enslaved by other Māori than all the Kiwis killed by the Germans, Austrians, Italians and Japanese. Without tanks, planes and bombs. All they had were muskets. All thanks to the muskets that Dr Bassett did not say they were gifted or bought from Pākehā!
Before the musket, inter-tribal fighting was limited in area, duration and effect. It was only after the musket that the wars became disastrous.
I agree with Dr Bassett on the dangers of a "bleeding heart" history. Māori should not be idealised. But neither should Pākehā.
It is not enough to call land steals cutting corners, and not enough to refer to the musket wars without saying who gifted or sold the muskets to Māori, and why.
I agree that the history should provide context by presenting the wider picture, and not be limited to events from 1840. But the wider picture should be of both Māori and Pākehā histories.
It should ask why the British were in NZ at all. Who invited them? And why, for a truer picture, British colonialism was not limited to New Zealand.
It embraced Australia which they claimed was uninhabited, used as a penal colony, dispossessing coastal Aborigines and wiping out the entire Aborigine population of Tasmania.
And West Africa and North America, slaves and cotton, and the dispossession of American Indians.
And the West Indies, slaves, sugar and rum, and the demise of the total indigenous population.
And India where princes were set up to war with each other, leaving the British Raj in possession.
And the Opium wars against China.
And, within Britain, the horrors associated with the Industrial Revolution.
We must also not whitewash Pākehā society.
Dr Bassett is an historian who was a member of the Treaty of Waitangi Commission for ten years. I hope he will now offer his services to the Education Department as it prepares to introduce compulsory courses in NZ history in 2022—but with no non-contextual tarring or whitewashing of either of the Treaty partners.