Captain Cook’s Arrival: 250 years ago

I’m all in favour of our remembering that Captain Cook and his crew arrived here in 1769, provided we also remember that Maori had been here for at least 700 years before him, and had developed a complex culture using and protecting the resources of the land and sea, and dealing with misbehaviour among themselves.  He depended on Maori support for resources, often, and indeed his and his crew members’ survival depended on mutual respect.

We are appalled at the failure of many visitors centres, museums and libraries throughout this country to have comprehensive records of Maori history about their local area. Often they don’t even know the names of local tribes and marae. Where is the interest in, and the respect, for those who hosted Cook?

Recently, in Whitianga, we heard and read a lot about the visitation next year by a replica of the Endeavour, and the celebration of Cook’s arrival in the area.  When we asked about local history, however, there was nothing available in writing about the tribes of the area, their history and their present concerns and projects, even though Ngaati Hei gave Cook’s crew a formal welcome, and some members of Cook’s crew documented the sophisticated pa defences at Wharekaho and wrote extensively about the interactions with Maori. 

Whitianga is not unique.

It’s time that every district showed some respect for the navigators who led large waka here, bringing settlers from overcrowded islands further north in the Pacific, and developing a unique culture here in terms of land use, environmental protection, lore and law, spirituality, language and the arts.  At least 700 years ago, some earlier, some later.

At the very least, we should all know and respect the iwi whose land we are living on, and understand the obstacles to development they still face as a result of colonisation.

Our challenge to councils, tourism operators, librarians, museum curators and journalists throughout Aotearoa is to find out who the real discoverers of your area were,  and how  colonisation impacted on their use of resources, especially land and water.    That’s what the Waitangi Tribunal is about, and righting the unfair imbalances caused by ignorance and greed is the  only way we can develop a truly harmonious diverse society where respect and cooperation are key values.

We Pakeha should learn our whole history,

not only our half of it. 

So let’s commemorate Cook’s visits, by all means – but let’s also fully acknowledge the support Maori gave him during his journey.

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