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Slants on history do no favours

Opinion Piece

Indigenous rights activist Tina Ngata upsets many people with the stridency of some of her comments, but probably more the fact she has access to significant platforms to make them — like the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

Ms Ngata has become a go-to commentator for national media on indigenous issues, especially with regard to the imminent commemoration of 250 years since Lieutenant James Cook and his crew arrived here — killing at least four Maori in their encounters over coming days, as they also became the first Europeans to formally meet tangata whenua. This marked the bicultural beginnings of modern New Zealand, as well as the start of the colonisation of Aotearoa.

Many of the issues Ms Ngata highlights are real and have serious ongoing impacts, so it is a pity that she diminishes her case by playing fast and loose with facts — like claiming 15 Maori were shot on the second day of the Endeavour’s visit here in 1769, when everything recorded of that time shows nine people were shot in total. She also plays into the hands of the likes of Hobson’s Pledge, who are delighted to point out an untruth and put their own slant on history in response.

As eminent historian Dame Anne Salmond said yesterday, “it is irresponsible to twist the past to whip up hatred and anger — in either direction”. She also provided The Herald an account of these first encounters from the historical evidence, which will run in the Weekender this Saturday.

Earlier this year Ms Ngata posted a comment on our story of the success of Whangara Mai Tawhiti at Te Matatini, the national kapa haka competition, saying let’s not forget what their winning haka was about:

“Captain Cook, Bloody crook — walk the plank.

“Why have you come back? Get your red neck and bald head back to the place you were executed . . .”

Two angry (unpublished) opinion pieces came in criticising her. Your editor pointed out that she was quoting our celebrated kapa haka champions, and that we were asking the author of the haka to talk about the genesis of this performance art and how the team approached the story they were telling. That invitation remains open.