New Zealand unpacks twin histories

UK High Commissioner to NZ Laura Clarke expressed regret over Maori deaths when James Cook arrived
UK High Commissioner to NZ Laura Clarke expressed regret over Maori deaths when James Cook arrived

New Zealand's national commemoration marking 250 years of Maori and European engagement has begun.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has led a government delegation to the North Island town of Gisborne, where Captain James Cook first landed in 1769.

The arrival of a flotilla, half Pacific ships and half European, will kick off three months of events in recognition of the landing - badged as 'Tuia 250', tuia being a Maori word meaning to weave or bind.

Former prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley, a Tuia 250 ambassador, said the commemorations were centred on togetherness.

"Tuia means 'united and bound together'. Not the same, but committed to working together," Ms Shipley said.

Deputy prime minister Kelvin Davis says he hopes the occasion will attract more reflection than revelry.

"Tuia 250 means having honest conversations about our history," he said.

Some Maori leaders have called for some or all Tuia 250 events to be boycotted.

Indigenous advocate Tina Ngata is running sideline events, badged as 'Wetewetehia' - meaning 'to unpack' - which Radio NZ reports will "delve into the atrocities that Cook committed, including a mock trial".

There are hopes the commemorations will allow the twin histories of Maori and non-Maori New Zealand to forge closer relationships into the future.

This also means revisiting the spirit and conditions in New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, made between Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1860.

Glenis Philip-Barbara, the general manager of Te Ha Trust, an organisation dedicated to reconciliation efforts, said she felt New Zealanders saw the occasion "as a turning point".

"The point at which Aotearoa New Zealand woke up to its dual heritage origins and began to think about what respecting the Treaty actually looks like," she said.

"These are comments I'm getting, not just from Maori people, but from Pakeha (non-Maori) people too in our community so it feels like we're moving towards something good."

While in Gisborne, Ms Ardern will meet with French Polynesian president Edouard Fritch, a gesture aimed at noting the role of French Polynesian man Tupaia back in 1769, when he mediated between Europeans and Maoris upon Cook's landing.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom High Commissioner Laura Clarke met with Maori leaders and issued a statement of regret for Maori deaths at the hands of British explorers after Cook's arrival.

Australian Associated Press