It is easy to misjudge the scale and significance of the Northern War. Compared to the world wars of the twentieth century, the Northern War may seem insignificant and perhaps even quaint. It wasn’t. The Northern War was important, brutal, and costly. Overall, Ngāpuhi paid a much higher price.
Ngāpuhi went to war because the British were not honouring the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi. Today, the Treaty is recognised as New Zealand’s founding document, a powerful symbol and the basis of important legal principles.1 The Treaty is the thread, which connects the Battle of Ruapekapeka to the present day.
Today, many pākehā New Zealanders are a little smug about their country’s race relations history. There is a belief that Māori fared better than, for instance, indigenous Australians and Native Americans. They probably did. However, exceeding these dreadfully low benchmarks is hardly something to be proud of. The remarkable earthworks of Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield are a stark reminder of our own history of conflict and broken promises.