Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Whangārei whare hosts veterans inquiry

Takahiwai Marae’s main whare, Rangiora, was a fitting location for the latest hearing week of the Wai 2500 Military Veterans Kaupapa Inquiry.

The whare was built as a memorial hall to those who had served their country and paid the ultimate sacrifice across various conflicts. 

Throughout the opening submissions, the Waitangi Tribunal heard how the Northland community of Takahiwai had been ‘cleared of its men folk’ after 35 were called to action in the Second World War, leaving a heavy burden for those left behind.

In his opening remarks, the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) kaumātua, Ruawhitu Pokaia, acknowledged the emotional toll and the efforts of veterans and their whānau when it came to sharing their experiences with the inquiry, and the importance for members of the NZDF to listen to – and engage with – the claimants.

The Vice Chief of Defence Force, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies – recently announced as the new incoming Chief of Defence Force – was one of a number of senior NZDF personnel who attended last week’s hearings.

As well as being welcomed on to the marae with a pōwhiri by hapū Patuharakeke, those attending also visited the Takahiwai Marae Urupā to pay their respects to those laid to rest there.  

“It was incredibly humbling for me to be present here at Takahiwai,” said Air Vice-Marshal Davies.

“Not only because this region holds special significance for me having grown up less than 20 kilometres from here, but to be able to listen and connect to the experiences we’ve heard from our Māori veterans and their whānau was deeply moving.

“As we have acknowledged throughout this process, it is clear the Defence Force hasn’t always provided Māori with the appropriate level of support, or provided Māori with the opportunity to practice their tikanga and retain their identity – but we are improving.

“It’s incredibly important that the NZDF is present and engaged with this kaupapa inquiry in order to hear these accounts first-hand, as it allows us to continuously look for opportunities to do things better for not only our Māori veterans, but all servicemen and servicewomen as well as their whānau who sacrifice so much for their country.”

The Tribunal heard further evidence from claimants regarding service across both World Wars, Korea and South East Asia (c. 1950s – 1990s), nuclear testing and peacekeeping (c. 1950s – 2010s) and current Crown policy and practice, in relation to concerns raised by Māori ex-service people and their whānau. 

Claimants spoke of the psychological impacts of service on those who served and their families, a feeling of abandonment and a lack of engagement with support services on their return to New Zealand, and the variable importance tikanga Māori has held within the Defence Force across the years. 

A number of claimants also spoke of the real progress made by the NZDF in recent years.

The kaupapa inquiry extends to all types of military service, whether operational or routine, in time of war or peace, and at home or abroad; undertaken directly for, or on behalf of the Crown of New Zealand or the Imperial Crown in New Zealand.

In addition to determining the Treaty of Waitangi consistency of Crown conduct, the purposes of the inquiry is to prepare an official narrative that will put Māori experiences of military service for the Crown on public record, and consider how to improve support for Māori veterans, and current serving personnel and their whānau.

The next hearing week is in Whakatāne, 12-16 August.

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