Some background info for teachers and students (pdfs):
- Fact sheet 1: New Zealand and the Second World War
- Fact sheet 2: A warrior tradition
- Fact sheet 3: Māori participation in overseas wars
- Fact sheet 4: Opposition to Māori going to war
- Fact sheet 5: The formation of the 28th (Māori) Battalion
- Fact sheet 6: The impact of the war on Māori
- Social Studies activity ideas: as rtf (editable in Word); as pdf
- NCEA History activity ideas: as rtf (editable in Word); as pdf
The 28th Māori Battalion was one of the most celebrated and decorated units in the history of the New Zealand armed forces. The pinnacle of its achievement was the Victoria Cross won by Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu in 1943. Approximately 3600 Māori served voluntarily with the 28th Battalion. Of this total 649 were killed or died on active service and a further 1712 were wounded. The battalion's casualty rate was almost 50% higher than the average for the New Zealand infantry battalions.
It is more than 60 years since the Second World War ended. Of the 140,000 New Zealand men and women who served overseas during the war only a few thousand remain. At the time the Māori Battalion website was launched in 2009 just over 50 battalion veterans were still alive. It is important that the stories and experiences of these people are recorded and preserved now to ensure that this important part of our history is kept for future generations.
The Second World War was a significant event in New Zealand race relations. The contribution and reputation of the Māori Battalion was a source of great pride to the wider New Zealand community. It was seen by many as a positive step forward for race relations in this country. Āpirana Ngata had argued that Māori participation in the First World War was the ‘price of citizenship' - after the Second World War it was clear that Māori had paid in full. He argued that if Māori were to have a say in shaping the future of the nation after the war they needed to participate fully during it.
Māori also made the most of the new employment opportunities the war created. Shortly before the war broke out just over 11% of Māori lived in urban areas. By 1951 the figure was closer to 23%. This urbanisation brought Māori and non-Māori closer together on an everyday basis. Māori also had to adjust to life in the city away from the support of their whānau. These changes had both positive and negative consequences for race relations and ultimately helped to shape modern New Zealand society.
Online resources such as 28MaoriBattalion.org.nz (and NZHistory) make it possible for schools to explore the experiences and consequences of New Zealanders at war. The story of the Māori Battalion provides a rich context with which to explore a number of important principles and ideas associated with the New Zealand curriculum in established school subjects such as social studies and history. There are stories of individual and collective sacrifice and grief, of humour and bravery. Many of those who served came from some of New Zealand's most isolated communities. They travelled to distant lands experiencing many new cultures. It is also an opportunity to explore what some would consider the ultimate ‘price of citizenship'.
In supporting schools in implementing the New Zealand Curriculum, Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga a Iwi Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration identifies four key mechanisms that are most likely to support student learning in the social sciences:
- Connection (Make connections to students' lives)
- Alignment (Align experiences to important outcomes)
- Community (Build and sustain a learning community)
- Interest (Design experiences that interest students).
These mechanisms reflect some of the important principles associated with the curriculum. A study of the Māori Battalion provides a context with which to explore these including:
1. The Treaty of Waitangi and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government. Article 3 in particular spoke of ‘the rights and privileges of British subjects' - in effect the concept of citizenship. Leaders such as Āpirana Ngata stressed that Māori participation in the Second World War was central to Māori citizenship of Aotearoa New Zealand.
2. Valuing the cultural diversity, histories and traditions of all New Zealanders.
The Māori Battalion is an important part of New Zealand history but is of even greater significance to many whānau, hapū and iwi. Those Māori who served drew on a warrior tradition, while the organisation and conduct of the Battalion also reflected Māori history and traditions.
3. Ensuring that the curriculum has meaning for students by connecting with their wider lives and by engaging the support of their families, whānau, and communities.
The Second World War was a significant event in the lives of many Māori families. Māori students in your class may have seen photos in their wharenui or on the mantelpiece at home of relatives who served overseas. The experiences of Māori Battalion soldiers present an opportunity for students to draw on the histories of their whānau, hapū and iwi in their learning.
4. The New Zealand curriculum is an inclusive one. It ensures among other things that students' identities and languages are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed.
The Māori Battalion provides an opportunity to explore the contribution of Māori to wider New Zealand life. It is a contribution that Māori can feel proud of. It is characterised by heroism and great sacrifice. The values and language that underpinned the Battalion were uniquely Māori.
The social sciences learning area exams how societies work and how people can participate as critical, active, informed and responsible citizens. Contexts are drawn from the past, present and future and from places within and beyond New Zealand.
An exploration of the Māori Battalion is one such context. Being prepared to put your life on the line for your country is perhaps the ultimate example of active citizenship. This is a story not only of an important historical event but one that is of significance to many living in present-day New Zealand and future generations of New Zealanders, especially Māori.
Understandings in relation to the achievement objectives for this learning area can be developed in a number of ways including social inquiry. Students can:
- ask questions, gather information and background ideas about the Māori Battalion on an individual level, i.e. a selected soldier or as a group
- explore and analyse people's values and perspectives about things such as Māori participation in the war, why the need for a separate Māori battalion
- examine why people made the decisions they made
- reflect on and evaluate the understandings they have developed
Social sciences conceptual strands
- Identity, Culture and Organisation
What is the ‘price of citizenship?' How did the organisation and running of the Māori Battalion reflect Māori values and traditions? What was the wider contribution of the Battalion to life in New Zealand or the wider notion of New Zealand's identity as a country? Māori and non-Māori shared their grief, sense of pride and achievement
- Place and environment
This is the story of people from some of New Zealand's most remote communities and their experiences in places on the other side of the planet. Some places in Crete, North Africa and Italy have become as important to Māori as places in New Zealand because of the wartime experiences of some of their ancestors. Some Māori have acknowledged the impact of these places and experiences on their tupuna by giving their children names such as Tunisia and Alamein. In this way the connection between ‘there' and ‘here' has been made permanent.
- Continuity and Change
Awareness and understanding of the influences of past events, experiences and actions on people's lives and those of their wider community and society are important in gaining a better understanding of the world we live in. In understanding the past we can better understand the present.
- The economic world
Maintaining New Zealand's contribution to the overall war effort placed considerable pressure on the economy. Māori played their part in this important aspect of this country's war effort.
See the New Zealand Curriculum document for relevant achievement objectives supporting these conceptual strands.
There are many opportunities to include the Māori Battalion in NCEA history courses offered by schools. It would be an ideal topic for the research standards at all levels. For instance it would be an excellent extension to the popular level 1 topic on the Origins of the Second World War.
The exploits of the Māori Battalion are an integral part of the Level 1 topic Race Relations- NZ Māori and Pakeha 1912-1980 as well as providing a context for Achievement Standard 1.6 Describe experiences that have been significant to the identity of New Zealanders
At Level 2 schools studying the topic Māori participation in international theatres of war in the 20th century or the growth of NZ identity 1890-1980 will find this material invaluable. Some schools might wish to consider the experiences of Māori in the Second World War and in particular the Māori Battalion for Achievement Standard 2.4 Examine perspectives and responses of, and demonstrate empathy for, people in an historical setting.