Speech to Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Award ceremony

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 18:30

On behalf of the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Fund Board, I wish to welcome you all here this evening. 

Among our guests are fellow board members, ministers of the Crown, Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association National Vice President Bob Hill, Chief of the Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Mike Yardley, members of the Iwi Chairs Forum, ministry and government agency representatives, members of the Alumni Establishment Committee, parents, whānau and friends.

Also with us this evening is the whānau of Second Lieutenant Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngārimu. It is the heroism and sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Ngārimu and the 28th (Māori) Battalion that we commemorate with these scholarship awards every year. At last year’s ceremony, we also had the opportunity to acknowledge the same valour of Willie Apiata, VC.

And, of course, welcome to our five scholarship recipients – Tahlia, Te Rerekohu, Coralie, James and Hine. Congratulations to you all. You should be incredibly proud of yourselves. You are a credit to your whānau, your iwi and our country, New Zealand.

I’m honoured to be here today not only as Chair of the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Fund Board, but also as Minister of Education.

As the Minister of Education, I’m relentless about working to raise the achievement of Māori in our education system along with all students.

While we’ve made great progress in raising levels of achievement in NCEA Level 2 amongst Māori (now at 63.3 per cent), we still have a way to go yet to achieve similar and sustainable outcomes to that of the overall population.

As we work towards lifting up those who have been left behind, it is also important to recognise and continue to encourage those who are already doing well. 

And that is why we are here today – to recognise and congratulate five outstanding Māori students and their achievements.

At the same time, this is also an opportunity to commemorate Second Lieutenant Ngārimu and the 28th (Māori) Battalion.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign.

We remember those tipuna who were in the first Māori unit, known as the Native Contingent.

They landed at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli on 3 July 1915. Here they joined the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, who were being deployed as infantry on the peninsula.

During the Chunuk Bair assault a month later, 17 men of the Native Contingent were killed and 89 were wounded.

One of those killed was 25-year-old Second Lieutenant Thomas Marshall Percy Grace of the Wellington Regiment, a descendant of Horonuku Te Heuheu Tukino IV, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa.

A talented sportsman who represented Wellington in cricket and rugby, as well as playing for the New Zealand Māori rugby team, Second Lieutenant Grace, known as ‘Haami’, took his competitive instincts and natural abilities to the battlefield.

I spent last week helping schools establish their Fields of Remembrance to commemorate men like Second Lieutenant Grace, and the many others who gave their lives serving our country.

It is important that today’s generation understand the sacrifice of these brave men and women and part the war played in establishing New Zealanders’ sense of identity.

Nearly 30 years after the Gallipoli Campaign, Second Lieutenant Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngārimu was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Second Lieutenant Ngārimu, of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Apanui descent, grew up in Ruatoria as did I, and as some here know, I am a member of the Ngārimu whanau

He joined the 28th (Māori) Battalion voluntarily in 1940 and died bravely in 1943 at Tebaga Gap, Tunisia.

He became the first Māori to receive Victoria Cross, which is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

We commemorate Second Lieutenant Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngārimu, his heroism and sacrifice, and that of the men of the 28th (Māori) Battalion, with these scholarship awards.

The bravery, determination and leadership these men showed in the face of great danger is an example to us all.

We will remember them. Ka maumahara tonu tātou kia rātou.

In 1945, the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Fund was established. This recognised the prestige and esteem that all New Zealanders held to the contribution and sacrifice of Māori during the Second World War.

These scholarships were established as a way to assist exceptional Māori to go on to influence future generations as those of the 28th (Māori) Battalion have done.

We are here to recognise the efforts of the scholarship recipients before us and acknowledge their whānau for the support they have provided to get them here today.  

The award you are receiving has a long and proud history.

Every one of you demonstrates the characteristics of the 28th (Māori) Battalion that we celebrate with this award.

These include:

  • Rangatiratanga – your leadership qualities
  • Manaakitanga – your contribution to the community
  • Whakaritenga – your ability to manage your studying and other commitments
  • Te Wero – clear display of the benefit of your study for Māori.     

Like those young men and women who fought on distant shores, you are the high achievers – the leaders among this generation of Māori.

Today, we face very different challenges to that faced by the men of the 28th (Māori) Battalion.

But our goal should be the same as theirs - tū rangatira, stand strong, tall and proud.

To stand together and support each other. To achieve, and in achieving, not sacrifice or compromise who we are or where we come from.

All of our scholarship recipients here today have done exactly that. They all combine their fantastic academic records with active participation in, and support of, Te Ao Māori.

And what is particularly exciting and inspiring is that you all have innovative plans to make a difference for Māori – and therefore all New Zealanders – once you complete your education.

It is fantastic to see a new generation of young people so determined to give back to the communities they were raised in, preserve their unique culture and improve the overall well-being of their fellow Māori.

A new generation of young people that, I’m sure, Second Lieutenant Ngārimu and the 28th (Māori) Battalion would be proud of.