Commemoration means marking an important historical event on or around a meaningful anniversary. Commemoration brings people together in physical and virtual spaces to reflect on the past and its relevance to the present. There doesn’t have to be a formal remembrance ceremony or a physical monument – commemoration could involve sharing historical information through a website, or creating artistic works that respond to an anniversary, for example.
The New Zealand Government has a policy on commemoration of historical anniversaries, first developed in 2009 and updated in 2014. Under this policy, a list of anniversaries to be commemorated is agreed several years in advance. This allows coordination and planning of government involvement in commemoration to take place.
Under the policy, anniversaries are categorised as either Tier 1 or Tier 2. Tier 1 (major) anniversaries relate to events whose impact was felt throughout the nation or changed New Zealand significantly. There should be a significant level of cross-government involvement in marking Tier 1 anniversaries. Tier 2 anniversaries concern events that were still important but had less national impact.
Occasionally, as with the centenary of the First World War from 2014-2019, dedicated funding may be available to support commemorations. However, most commemorative activity (particularly for Tier 2 anniversaries) is funded from within departmental baselines.
Anniversaries on the Government’s list should generally be:
- of significance to the nation as a whole
- of events that took place in New Zealand, involved New Zealanders or have a clear connection to New Zealand
- a multiple of 25 years since the event in question (e.g. 25th, 50th, 100th anniversaries)
- representative of the diversity of New Zealanders’ historical experiences.
A list of anniversaries for 2014-2020 was agreed in 2014, and the following anniversaries were authorised for 2020.
Commemorations for 2020
- 175th anniversary of the start of the Northern War
- 100th anniversary of New Zealand sending its first official team to the Olympics
- 100th anniversary of New Zealand attending the League of Nations and the 75th anniversary of signing the United Nations Charter
- 100th anniversary of the opening of the Alexander Turnbull Library
- 25th anniversary of New Zealand joining the World Trade Organisation
The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is currently looking at refreshing the commemorations policy and extending the list of anniversaries beyond 2020.
Te Pūtake o te Riri, He Rā Maumhara, was observed for the first time in 2018. It is the national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars, and takes place on 28 October. Visit Te Puni Kōkiri’s website for more information about this commemoration, and about Te Pūtake o te Riri | Wars and Conflicts in New Zealand Fund.
There are many important anniversaries every year, and it is not possible to include them all on the government’s commemorations programme. Organisations outside government may decide to mark these anniversaries, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage is always happy to hear about community-led commemorations. The Ministry may, for example, be able to publicise such commemorations through its online channels.
New Zealanders' views on commemoration
In 2019, Colmar Brunton conducted a public opinion survey for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, looking at New Zealanders’ views on commemoration. The final report on the survey's findings is available here.
Updated on 5th May 2020