A US comedian who peddled a myth about Māori and Moriori long used to justify colonialism has apologised and says he had "no idea" it was not true.

In his show Quality Time, on Amazon Prime, comedian Jim Gaffigan joked about a long-debunked myth that Moriori were the first people to settle New Zealand, until they were conquered - and eaten - by Māori.

"Māori were not even the first people in New Zealand," says Gaffigan, as part of a skit that also discusses Aboriginal people and Christopher Columbus' arrival in America.

"The first people were the Moriori, and then the Māori came and ate them. Not even making that up."

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After being called out on social media, Gaffigan tweeted an apology.

"Wow. I'm so sorry. I had no idea it wasn't true or there was debate on the issue.

"I honestly thought that was the universal belief. I was simply repeating what I was told. I didn't think it was insulting or myth peddling. If I had known this before I would not have said it."

In August, Moriori initialled their deed of settlement to address Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, which negotiator Maui Solomon said "put to bed" the myths and stigma long directed towards Moriori.

"That myth, that Māori forced the Moriori out of New Zealand, has been used as a stick to beat Māori with, to justify colonisation," Solomon said at the time.

"The idea Māori displaced Moriori was taught to generations of New Zealanders, and it could take generations to correct that."

Moriori were their own, distinct people, and arrived to Rekohu, Rangihaute, Hokorereoro, and other nearby islands from eastern Polynesia (making up the Chatham Islands) between 1000 and 1400AD.

The myth of displacement was long peddled, along with the idea they were racially inferior, by the government through school textbooks.

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The myths subsequently spread beyond the classroom to New Zealand's media and society; were discussed in letters to newspapers and on talkback radio; and used by the public, and by politicians debating in Parliament to justify the Pākehā colonisation of New Zealand.

Killings of Moriori by Māori did take place however, when in 1835 when two imi (iwi) invaded the islands.

Moriori, who had developed a non-violent tradition known as Nunuku's law of peace, refused to take up arms in resistance and the invaders subsequently killed an estimated 300 Moriori - one sixth of the population - and enslaved the survivors.

In his show, Gaffigan also dives further into the notion of Māori cannibalism.

"The British had conquered the world, colonies on every continent, and by the time they got to New Zealand, they were like, 'We've done this before, let's meet with the locals and take over'.

"So they met with the Māori and they were like, 'So what happened to these Moriori people? Did you kill them?' And they were like, 'yeah, and then we ate them', and the English were like, 'We were thinking we could share the islands'. Do you wanna share them?'

"You're not hungry now are you? Get them shepherds pie, tell them it's made out of shepherds'.

"They were cannibals."

The Herald has approached Amazon Prime for comment.

On Thursday the Government announced New Zealand history would be taught in all schools, and include the arrival of Māori, colonial history, Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi, colonisation and the New Zealand Wars, among other topics.