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Encounter, or murder?

Comments made in New York last week by Te Araroa woman Tina Ngata have reignited debate about how the anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook’s landing here should be acknowledged.

Ms Ngata has advocated a boycott of the “celebrations” being held around the country from October to December to mark the days in 1769 when the Endeavour ship sailed around Aotearoa/New Zealand, and tangata whenua and Europeans met formally for the first time.

The national event is called Tuia Encounters 250. The Gisborne event is called Te Ha 2019 Sestercentennial, funded by central and local government.

The use of the word “encounter” was shocking to the extreme, said Ms Ngata.

“Somebody lands and then shoots the first person that they see, and then the next day shoots another 15, and then wants to get a closer look at a waka so they shoot everybody in the waka and everybody in that waka was unarmed. They were just fisherpeople.”

Speaking from New York, Ms Ngata told The Gisborne Herald she had not been misquoted when she said 15 people had been killed the second day after the Endeavour crew arrived here.

“What is clear is that there were multiple murders during an invasion of Maori lands. If people want to quibble about numbers, based on what version, then I think they are missing the point.”

Historian Dame Anne Salmond, from Gisborne, acknowledged there was “Nothing to celebrate”.

Dame Anne provided primary evidence about the encounters in Turanga.

From the evidence, it was clear Cook’s attempts to make a peaceful landing in Turanganui had been botched, and that in the process, he breached his orders, she said.

“During these meetings, four Maori were killed, while at least five others were wounded and may also have died.”

But Dame Anne asked whether that evidence suggested Cook was a white supremacist, contemptuous of Maori and willing to kill them at random.

“In fact, the weight of evidence suggests otherwise.”

Unlike later visitors and some of his own men, Cook did not use the practice of kai-tangata (cannibalism) to suggest that Maori were savages, Dame Anne said. And he doubted the benefits for local people of contact with Europeans.

“While we have had plenty of white supremacists in our shared history, evidence suggests Cook wasn’t one of them.

“In confronting the past, black and white caricatures that whip up ill will and resentment do not assist mutual understanding. That was the case when James Cook was treated as a paragon of virtue, an unsullied hero, and the shootings in Turanganui-a-Kiwa and elsewhere were swept under the carpet, while historical figures like Te Kooti were vilified. Maori rightly resented such distorted portraits.

“It is also the case when James Cook is treated as a villain, filled with racist contempt for Maori. This is a caricature, too, and will also arouse resentment. In trying to craft a good future for our children and grandchildren, many of whom inherit both legacies, it is irresponsible to twist the past to whip up hatred and anger — in either direction.

“History itself suggests that this leads to mistrust and violence, not peace and goodwill,” said Dame Anne.

'Govt has not invested in a Cook celebration’Te Ha 2019 Sestercentennial Trust general manager Glenis Philip-Barbara made it clear the Government had not invested in a “Cook celebration”.

“While the arrival of James Cook aboard the Endeavour gives us a moment to pause and reflect on where we are at as a nation, funds have been invested in telling the stories of those first meetings between Maori and Europeans, from both perspectives, with an emphasis on the stories we know the least about.”

Mrs Philip-Barbara said Cook’s arrival in 1769 also heralded the beginning of a 250-year-old story of the establishment of a nation.

“It is in fact the beginning of the colonisation of Aotearoa story. We say that because we know that Cook was operating under two sets of instructions, one from the Royal Society of London which was focused on the scientific discoveries made possible through the gathering of samples of flora from new lands and observing the transit of Venus in the southern skies.

“The second, and less well-publicised, set of instructions was from the Royal Navy and focused Cook on the task of finding Terra Australis, the fabled great Southern Continent, and claiming it for the British. It’s the claiming part that signals this voyage as the onset of the colonisation story.”

Dame Anne said in both sets of instructions, Cook was told that if he found Terra Australis, he should seek friendly relations with the local people, who had the legal right to their own lands, and to avoid bloodshed if at all possible.

Mrs Philip-Barbara said Tuia 250 presented an opportunity to engage in honest conversation about the history of Aotearoa from both perspectives.

“These are stories that are not easy to hear or to tell.

“But as Bishop Don Tamihere said last October, and many others since then have told us, they must be told.

“They must be told for the simple fact that they are a core part of our history as a modern nation.

“The role we play is to broker the conversation locally — to create the opportunities, spaces and places for those stories to be told. Many of these stories are a joy to hear and create wonderful points of connection. But we recognise other stories are hard for many to hear, in fact they are often hard to share. But it is our position that those in our community who want to tell their story, and enhance (or correct) the narrative of Aotearoa, absolutely have the right to do so.”

Ms Ngata told Radio New Zealand last week that Cook’s landing was not a cause for “celebration”.

“Maori are still very mamae (hurt) and we are still labouring under the historical and enduring rights violations as a result of the event that they are commemorating this year.”

In response to Dame Anne, Ms Ngata said it was important to remember that a white supremacist need not be filled with contempt for another race.

“They only need to believe white people to be superior to them. That is literally the definition of a white supremacist.

“He made numerous references to the superiority of British arms, lifestyle conditions, and cultural habits throughout his journals. The mere act of claiming land for Britain necessitates the relegation of the rights of the original habitants to a lesser one than Britain.”

Ms Ngata’s trip to New York was paid for by the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples. She spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on behalf of the Te Karu o Te Ika Voyaging Trust.

“Glenis is quite right in saying that this was the inception of our colonisation. Cook was under orders to report back on resources, minerals, botany and the like not for interests sake, but as a reconnaissance for his own monarch.

“While there was also sponsorship from the Royal Society, this doesn’t necessarily make it an innocent mission. We should remember that at a similar period in time, the Royal Society went about such activities as pickling and measuring ‘native brains’ in order to prove that we natives were less intelligent, and in turn to legitimise the colonial project (that is, as less intelligent creatures it was a service to colonise us). In this sense the Royal Society was operating in tandem with the imperial expansion project.”

Ms Ngata said it also provided a handy cover for the first expedition, not to alert the other colonial interests in the Pacific at the time.

“This has been referenced by many authors. In fact, on his third voyage, where (Dame) Anne seems intent on saying that he, by now, had really come to respect Maori, he was still killing us, and torturing us, and our Pacific relations too; for even a suspicion of theft (unproven) in a manner so brutal that even the crew were shocked. (Dame) Anne can talk about the very nice things that Cook wrote about us all she likes, but this does not change the material facts, which were that he killed us, everywhere he went.

“And in order to carry out these kinds of acts you simply must believe you have a superior right to others. Whether he was filled with contempt for us is irrelevant. He believed himself superior to us, and thus was a white supremacist killer of Maori and Pacific Islanders.

Ms Ngata said she did not accept any position that tried to balance out the lives taken with some perceived benefits of scientific progress.

“When people try to ‘balance’ murder with the nice things someone said, it is egregious in the extreme.

“Nor do I accept that indigenous murder is simply a ‘character flaw’ that is balanced by other character traits. Yet this seems to be the norm for others, particularly in the media around Tuia 250.

“When I see that, it makes it quite clear to me that we have some way to go in our mindset, as a nation, to address the racism that afflicts our nation.”

The numbersFirst meetings here between Maori and Europeans 250 years ago, in October 1769, have been identified as a “major anniversary”.The Government has earmarked $13.5 million, an additional $9m has been allocated to the Lotteries Tuia Fund for regional events around the country, to tell the stories around the first encounters.$1.44m of that has been distributed to several Tairawhiti groups to fund projects for the Tuia – Encounters 250 programme.The Department of Internal Affairs has approved several grants for local projects.Tuia – Encounters 250 (Tuia 250) acknowledges the dual heritage of Aotearoa/New Zealand 250 years since the first onshore meetings between Maori and Europeans.Central government funding has been granted to the following groups: Te Ha 1769 Sestercentennial Trust has received two grants totalling $600,000; Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust $350,000; Toi Hauiti Charitable Trust has three grants totalling $300,155; Rangiwaho Marae $100,000; Te Aitanga a Hauiti Centre of Excellence Trust $77,922; Hinenui Whanui Charitable Trust $11,858.

ENDEAVOUR: A replica of James Cook’s Endeavour ship (pictured) will sail into Gisborne this October to mark the 250th anniversary since the first meetings here between tangata whenua and Europeans in 1769. The replica ship will be included in a flotilla of other historical tall ships and waka on a voyage around New Zealand, as part of the Tuia 250 events. File picture by Paul Rickard