National | Education

Political statement, social commentary or vandalism?

The statue of British explorer James Cook in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa has become a catalyst for social commentary after being vandalised with the words "Thief Pakeha(sic)" and "This is our land" causing heated discussion, both locally and online.

Alerting Te Ao Māori News to the spray-painted statement, Heather Wright says, "I found that very offensive.  For a start, it's vandalism of public property which the ratepayers do pay for, we all own it, it's not just a Pākehā statement."

“Well I think it's disgraceful but it's not just this that they've put it on it's on all the beautification,” says another local.

Māori and indigenous rights activist Tina Ngata, of Ngāti Porou, says, “Statues to colonisers, events for colonisers, currency, narrative stories, all the tools of the coloniser that help to hold up colonisation ... that's why you see many places around the world pulling these statues down and you see many places around the world changing the names, so from Colombus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, because that's a pathway of justice.'

250 years ago, Cook and the Endeavour landed in Tūranganui-a Kiwa.  A number of Māori were murdered during those first encounters between Māori and Pākehā.

“Yup and I'm sure lots of Pākehā have been murdered too,” says Wright.

Another local man says, “Look to the future, that's my way of thinking about it anyway."

“I'm third-generation in this area, my ancestors did not have any agro against other race... people,” says another resident.

“Colonisation is a big discourse that we all have to be part of and take responsibility for both sides I guess, don't you think?” says yet another.

The statue was erected in the year 2000. Today, on the back the words read, "this is our land".

Whatever their aim, it is clear that the perpetrator saw the monument as a symbol for colonisation- which continues to have devastating impacts on Māori.

Wright says, “But that wasn't my generation that signed that bit of paper and it's our generation that seems to be being penalised for, apparently, stealing someone’s land.”

“It's a bi-cultural conversation, the bi-cultural conversation that we're having here isn't going to be limited to the events that are defined by Tuia or the events that are defined by the Crown, the bi-cultural conversation will happen however it needs to happen,” says Ngata.

The statue is often subjected to vandalism, suggesting that not everyone in the community is happy or in support of a monument to Captain Cook standing at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa.

Ngata says, “Everybody in this country has a responsibility to learn and accept the history of this country and if you're not doing that, if you're opposing the true history of this country then it is your fault, it is your problem because you're perpetuating the problem that was incepted in the first place.”

“Well I think it's very sad that people feel like this but anyway why can't we all just live peacefully together,” says another resident asked her views on the vandalism.

“I think it's amusing, I found it funny and it made me laugh- it's made my morning,” says another.

The spray-painted writing has since been removed, but no doubt the conversation will continue.