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Recognition of status for 2019 — now let’s?get ready for it

Opinion Piece

News that Gisborne will host the opening ceremony for the three-week sestercentennial commemorations of the landing of Captain James Cook and his crew here is welcome and makes it essential we get it right.

The Government is allocating $3.5 million towards a commemorative voyage around New Zealand of the Endeavour replica and a fleet of waka.

Official 2019 commemorations will start here with a dawn opening ceremony that will see the waka and the Endeavour arrive in the bay with the rising of the sun, repeating something that was so successful in 1969.

An arts and culture programme will include an expanded Te Ha Award and an exhibition of artists from the Pacific Rim at Tairawhiti Museum. It is really fitting that some of those artists will be hosted at Uawa-Tolaga Bay where Cook had a successful visit after the disasters of his first landing at Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay.

Sestercentennial Trust manager Dr Nicky Soloman says they want the commemorations to increase understanding of indigenous history and enhance empathy between cultures, leading to improved race relations.

This requires a delicate approach. A visit here by the Endeavour replica in 1995 was opposed by Maori because of the deaths on the Waikanae foreshore and in the bay during Cook’s visit. That was resolved after a hui, but the feeling still exists.

A statue recognising the early Maori navigators to this area could help redress this and is long overdue. It is vital that Gisborne District Council gets on with the Navigations Project to make sure it is ready on time.

There are some thorny issues to be decided, including the fate of the astronomical observatory on Titirangi-Kaiti Hill, an area where it would be appropriate to recognise the Maori navigators. The inner harbour project, delayed by friction between different users, also needs to proceed soon.

But for now the main thing is the Government has recognised that commemorations must start here, the scene of the first significant meetings between Maori and Europeans. Roll on 2019.