Last weekend — on Saturday, December 1 — hundreds turned out in Tauranga to witness an apology, not by the Crown, but by the Anglican Church for the 1866 actions of one of its mission agencies. Lloyd Ashton was there.
Since the Waitangi Tribunal was created in 1975, Pākehā New Zealanders have been faced with a truckload of uncomfortable, yet indisputable evidence.
Evidence that much of modern New Zealand is built on broken promises and bad deals — and that, down the decades, the governments of our country have breached the Treaty of Waitangi countless times.
Since 1975, the Crown has, on many occasions, apologised to iwi for the actions of colonial and post-colonial governments which stripped the first people of this land of their inherited whenua.
Last weekend, though, in Tauranga, the serious work of putting things right entered a new, profound and personal dimension.
Because my church — the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia — said sorry, publicly, for its part in dispossessing Tauranga Moana people of their birthright.
With heads hung low, two of the most senior bishops of the Anglican Church apologised for an 1866 decision by the Church Missionary Society to give the Crown most of 1333 acres of land which had been entrusted to them by two Tauranga Moana hapū — Ngāti Tapu and Ngāi Tamarāwaho.
True, the CMS had come under intolerable pressure from the Crown to sell out. But that land was not CMS’s to sell, nor to give away. But, once given, it was gone forever, and the hapū were thrown into poverty.
The apology was read, slowly, in te reo by Pīhopa Ngarahu Katene, and in English by Archbishop Philip Richardson.
Then the day reached its pivotal, unscripted, and most solemn moment — when Archbishop Philip sank to his knees in the grass.
He raised the General Synod-mandated apology above his head and, with eyes down, he offered the document, which is sealed with the Primate’s seal, to Ngāti Tapu kaumātua Puhirake Ihaka and Ngāi Tamarāwaho kaumātua Peri Kohu.
In meteorological terms, Saturday, December 1, in Tauranga was a stinker.
Heavy, driving rain and squalling gusts of wind buffeted the large marquee which had been erected to host the apology event.
That marquee stood on a significant site: on a council reserve on the shore of Tauranga Harbour, which is now home to a vintage car club — but which had once been the site of Otamataha Pā.
The day began at 9am with two pōwhiri. The first for an ope from the Kīngitanga, led by Kīngi Tuheitia’s sister, Heeni Katipa; the later one for the Anglican party.
The MC for the day, Huikakahu Kawe (Ngāti Ranginui), then outlined how things would unfold, and he introduced the historian Dr Alistair Reese, whose work underpinned the church apology.
Alistair spent 10 minutes backgrounding the tragedy of 1866 — and explained that the colonial government and troops put unrelenting pressure on the CMS. In part, because they wanted to thwart local Māori support for the Kīngitanga.
Archbishop Philip Richardson and Pīhopa Ngarahu Katene then spent the better part of 20 minutes reading the text of the formal apology.
The 16th Bishop of Waiapu, the Rt Rev Andrew Hedge, then spoke briefly. He explained to the 200-odd people gathered how he stands in an unbroken chain of leadership to the first Bishop of Waiapu, William Williams, and to Williams’ colleague and friend Archdeacon Alfred Brown.
Both of them were on the CMS Lands Board which in 1866 yielded to Crown pressure, and made the fateful decision to give most of the land which had been entrusted to them to the Crown.
Bishop Andrew recalled too, the first public airing of that apology at the May General Synod: “I have never before experienced the palpable sense of overwhelming grief that was present,” he said.
“Those of us here from Te Hahi Mihinare, as we support the reading and presentation of this apology, bring to this day the representative grief of a nation of Anglican bishops, clergy and laity …
“We come with solemn sadness that the events of the past have cast such a long shadow on the generations that have followed, and left a legacy of injustice and controversy. We come in the anticipation that this act of repentance may help to shine a light of reconciliation across this whenua.”
The apology having been read, and Bishop Andrew having expressed his remorse for his predecessor’s actions, Archbishop Philip, flanked by Archbishop Sir David Moxon, Pīhopa Ngarahu Katene, and Bishop Andrew Hedge, approached the two kaumātua.
And that’s when Archbishop Philip sank to his knees.
Relief, resolution and reconciliation
Saturday’s proceeding didn’t run on rails. At one point, Ngāi Tukairangi elder Kihi Ngatai rose to express his disappointment that the apology was directed to only the two hapū, Ngāti Tapu and Ngāi Tamarawaho. Other Ngāi Tukairangi representatives then jumped to their feet to express their disapproval, too.
The interjection passed quickly, however, and Huikakahu Kawe suggested it was not too late for other affected hapū to benefit from moves towards restorative justice that will follow.
The apology ended with a response from Puhirake Ihaka, who is the chairman of the Otamataha Trust (which represents both hapū, and which hosted the event) and Peri Kohu.
“I thank you,” Puhirake said to the bishops, “for the kōrero in your document that you read out to us today.
“To me, personally, it brings some sense of relief, some sense of resolution and reconciliation.”
Peri Kohu began his response by summoning two of his whānau, who joined him in singing: O Holy Night.
He followed that with a quietly-spoken speech.
“My dad once said to me: ‘Lower your voice, and strengthen your argument’,” he said.
Peri acknowledged his tūpuna — “I can feel them around me” — as well as the rōpū from the Kīngitanga.
He also thanked the bishops for the church’s apology, and for their pledge of future support.
“I look forward to the time when we can put some meat around these bones.”
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and non-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going. If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider contributing $5 or $10 a month.