Meka Whaitiri: 'It's particularly important as a Māori MP to be at Gallipoli'

By Kelvin McDonald

Minister for Veterans Meka Whaitiri is attending the first of her official engagements in Turkey commemorating the Battle of Gallipoli and ANZAC Day.

"It's absolutely special after two years' absence to return back to a significant site like Gallipoli to remember those that fought here over 107 years ago, the relationships that were formed between the NZ soldiers and obviously the Australian soldiers. But also the relationship that's been forged through our shared history with the Turkish people and the Turkish government, " Whaitiri told Te Ao on Saturday (NZ time). 

Whaitiri said it is particularly special as a Māori to be at Gallipoli to remember those who have fallen and acknowledge the Turkish people who have cared for "our sons that are buried in this whenua".

"To be here, after two years' absence, as the Minister of Veterans and also a Māori MP is particularly important to me," said Whaitiri, who was at Mehmetcik Abide Peace Park in the Gallipoli Peninsula.

"The Turkish people's generosity in allowing us to come here and acknowledge the contribution of our Anzacs and the way in which we do that is also very special."

Whaitiri shared her own personal connection to Anzac Day commemorations. 

"I come from a long line of soldiers that served in the NZ Army. My dad served in Korea, his half-brother and his uncle were members of the 28 Māori Battalion. Both killed in action in Italy and they were part of C Company. And then I've got tīpuna that go back further, particularly Mita Pohatu and Turoa Pohatu both from Muriwai, Manutuke where I'm from who also served in the First World War."  

Whaitiri said there is always a place for Māori culture in these commemorations and that it is important the stories of Māori soldiers who served in Gallipoli are also told.

"Kaupapa Māori in terms of Anzac commeration has always been a part of our commerations here in Gallipoli. I hope to see that continue," Whaitiri said. 

"It's important to also tell our stories of those who served in the Māori Pioneer Battalion as well as the 28 Māori Battalion.

"I think in the Second World War there's an appreciation of the role the 28 Māori Battalion fought in service, but stories are only starting to come out of the Māori Pioneer Battalion - and adding the rich tapestry of their contribution in the First World War and particularly here in Gallipoli."