Rt. Hon. Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister
Let us start with important acknowledgements.
First, this special day, in remembrance of the 28th Maori Battalion, is also to honour all those men and women who have risked their lives in the service of our country.
Second, special guest Robert “Bom” Gillies - one of the two surviving members of the 28 Maori Battalion.
“Bom” enlisted in Rotorua when he was 17 years old and his service took him to Africa, Italy, and the Middle East. Thank you for attending. It is an honour to have you here.
The other surviving member of the battalion, Epineha “Pine’ Ratapu, was unable to attend but it was good to hear he recently celebrated his 98th birthday at his home in Masterton.
Let us acknowledge the nine women attending who are widows of men who served in the battalion.
And let us acknowledge the representatives of eight of the ten commanding officers of the Battalion.
All of you are the collective whanau and it is seriously humbling that you are all present on this auspicious day.
Two days ago we unveiled a statue for Dame Whina Cooper at Panguru.
In 1981 Whina went to a house by the rail way line it Otirira that was owned by Motatau Shortland.
As an aside the Otirira railway line is going to be reopened soon.
But on that day in 1981, as soon as Motatau invited Whina in to his house, she said “I have been here before. This is the home where we all gathered in World War Two, to pack parcels for the Maori Battalion”.
She began to discuss the rooms and the storage purposes allocated. Her memory was very clear.
So moving on, today is the outcome of our remembering the past. And a term of coalition government negotiations in October 2017.
New Zealand First entered the negotiation with a range of proposals to advance the interests of this country.
This is one of them.
It is why we are here today.
The 28th Maori Battalion is a unique feature of our history.
The circumstances which lead to the battalion’s existence, and to the contribution it made, are unlikely to ever exist again.
That is why we must record, preserve, and honour its contribution.
It is fitting the museum is placed here on the Waitangi treaty grounds - and the centrepiece of our annual Treaty commemoration.
However, it must be remembered the spirit of the Maori Battalion is shared by many other marae around the country – to borrow an old saying “courage has many resting places.”
As we all know, the battalion is associated with Sir Apirana Ngata and his aspirations for Maori. He saw a Maori-only battalion as a pathway to respect and equality.
He viewed sacrifice in war as “the price of citizenship” and a pathway for Maori determinism.
The relationship between Maori and the Crown never stops evolving. It is shaped by emerging perception and interpretation.
This relationship is moulded by the status of various treaty settlements, emerging tribunal claims, and the resolution of historical grievance.
Today our purpose is to recognise the role of the 28th Maori Battalion, and its unique legacy in our history.
It is said that these men were united by shared values and similarity of character.
Volunteered at a greater rate than compulsory conscription.
They were united in wanting to fight for this country.
They accepted that there was an international threat to this part of the world and to our nation.
They were united by pride, loyalty, determination, and a willingness to fight.
For some they couldn’t wait to get out of the bush and see the world.
And they readily accepted they might lose their lives fighting for this country and what it stood for.
The number of stories of young Maori lying about their age, or in one case, switching his hand to deceptively pass an eye test to hide the absence of sight in one eye, are legend. Mat Te Hau only had one seeing eye.
Without hesitation everybody recognised the military prowess of the Maori battalion.
So the Maori battalion was formed by self-belief and shaped by a value of unquestionably serving New Zealand.
There are names etched in history which will never be forgotten – Ngarimu, Awatere, Henare, Manahi to name just a few of the many brave.
The courage was outstanding.
The sacrifice was heavy.
We hope that we will never see again the circumstances which gave rise to the Maori Battalion, nor see the scale of contribution by such a group of men and their families.
It is why we must never forget.