Ideasroom

Two wrongs don’t end a fight

Because of early settlers' attacks on physical elements of Māori culture, Anaru Eketone says he is totally against doing the same thing by destroying colonial statues. Especially if removing those statues sweeps mistreatment of Māori under the rug. 

The protests started by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman have set in motion a questioning of statues and place names that celebrate America’s racist past. This raised international awareness has also shone a light on some of the statues and place names here in New Zealand leading to some damage already done to historic monuments.

As we relook at the appropriateness of monuments, place names and street names in our country, we need to be aware that this process has already happened in New Zealand before. The destruction of Māori carvings by early missionaries continues to today with the mutilation of carvings to remove supposedly offensive genitals. On top of this, innumerous sacred, historic and important sites have been bulldozed, blown up, ploughed over and built on, all on the altar of economic development.

Not only did the settlers attack these physical reminders of Māori culture and ancestors, they set about marginalising Māori history by renaming large parts of New Zealand to reflect where they came from. The Scots in the south named nearly every settlement and street after towns in their homeland, in fact I can sit with a map of Scotland and tick off dozens of Scottish place names replicated in the street names of my home town of Mosgiel or settlements throughout Otago. The English did the same thing, as well naming their settlements after their own war heroes such as Nelson, Wellington and Marlborough.

Because of what happened to many of those things important to Māori, I am totally against unilaterally destroying monuments and statues. I would prefer to see open discussion and negotiation take place, rather than a free-for-all where institutions and individuals take matters into their own hands - as have Māori experienced.

The destruction of Māori carvings by early missionaries continues to today with the mutilation of carvings to remove supposedly offensive genitals. On top of this, innumerous sacred, historic and important sites have been bulldozed, blown up, ploughed over and built on, all on the altar of economic development.

We started the process of returning many place names to their original Māori names some 35 years ago. However, the renaming of places that did not have an original name such as streets buildings and organisations is a different and more complex matter.

At The University of Otago there is a College named after Sir James Allen, an early 20th century senior politician and Chancellor of the University of Otago. He was a man who did a myriad of good works in service of his city, university and country. However, with all fallible human beings he was also “a complex character” and “a man of his time”, all modern pseudonyms for behaviour most would condemn today. In World War I as minister of defence he enforced conscription on the Waikato tribes to punish them for refusing to fight for a nation that in living memory had used the same military to invade their territory, kill their people, confiscate their lands and continue to oppress them.

My grandfather and his brother were 17 and 18 years old when they were punitively conscripted, probably because their father had been King Te Rata’s secretary, who along with Te Puea had encouraged the tribe not to go to war. What was most shocking is that the legal age to enlist was 20 years of age, but that was irrelevant when a people needed to be taught a lesson. Fortunately the war ended before either got to the battlefield.  

When James Allen was high commissioner to the United Kingdom, he met my great great grandfather, who was one of the kaumātua who travelled with Ratana to speak to King George V with a petition signed by 34,000 Māori, urging the British to force the New Zealand government to honour the Treaty of Waitangi. Allen was one of those who sabotaged the visit by lying to the British that Ratana had no support amongst Māori. He then sabotaged Ratana’s visit to the League of Nations in Switzerland by requesting the Embassies being asked to present Māori concerns have nothing to do with them.

Sir James Allen was held in high regard by his contemporaries, and Arana College is named in honour of him. Every now and then, though, my blood boils when I see his name. However, I accept his presence in the University because it also gives me the opportunity to tell our story as well as a fuller story of who James Allen was.

If the presence of Allen and his ilk becomes hidden, I worry that New Zealand’s past treatment of Māori will also be swept under the carpet, especially in light of New Zealand’s woeful ignorance of its own history. As we continue to relook at who the nation has honoured in the past, we should take it as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the fuller history of our nation. The first thing we should look at is why they were honoured. If it is to racism, then those who set them up should bring them down.

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