Competing visions of the past constitute contested historical ground in Aotearoa New Zealand. The novel as a genre constitutes a strategic site in constructing national identity. This article illustrates how Witi Ihimaera's historical novel The Matriarch (1986) presents a new vision that seeks to displace Pakeha discourse from its privileged position in articulating the country's history and national identity. This transformation from outsider to insider perspective is part of a much wider movement throughout the Pacific and beyond. As a narrative that validates a Maori version of nationhood, Ihimaera's novel can lay a strong claim to be the novel of modern Aotearoa New Zealand. Nevertheless, the novel has received mixed reaction among both Maori and non-Maori commentators, especially within influential critical literary circles. These reactions constitute another sort of contested ground as they raise issues concerning notions of history, literature, truth, and fiction, and the relationships among them.