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Asia Minute: New Zealand Marks Controversial Anniversary

Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
New Zealand's flag taken outside the Beehive, Wellington

250 years ago today British explorer James Cook went ashore onto the land of what it is now called New Zealand. The anniversary is being marked with some ceremonies, but not everyone is calling it a celebration.

As indigenous people all over the world have pointed out, a land is not “discovered” if somebody already lives there.

That was the case today in 1769, when British Captain James Cook landed on what is now the town of Gisborne, on the east side of New Zealand’s North Island. Maori people had already been there for hundreds of years, in the land they call Aotearoa.

The initial encounter with Cook was not a peaceful one — a leader of the native group was shot and killed over what the BBC terms a “misunderstanding over a ceremonial challenge.”

At least eight other indigenous people were killed in that original encounter, and last week the British High Commissioner delivered a “statement of regret” about the deaths — though stopping short of an apology.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand “this is a chance to talk about the reality of New Zealand history;” saying “we’ve had commemorations in New Zealand around Cook on a number of occasions but never before have we acknowledged actually the navigational history of Maori, we haven’t told the story of the loss of life when Cook arrived.”

A flotilla of ships from various countries is marking the occasion — including a replica of Cook’s ship “The Endeavor.”

Others oppose any ceremonies around this date, activist Tina Ngata telling the BBC “it’s a commemoration or an anniversary of invasion and imperial expansion.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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