The site at the top of Kaiti Hill overlooking the moana was home to a statue of Captain Cook for almost 50 years.

But after long-term opposition from local Iwi it was removed and relocated to the Tairāwhiti museum.

Its absence is a reminder of how not just the statue, but the figure it represents has divided the Gisborne community.

250 years ago Cook landed in Gisborne, and to mark the event, more than $20 million in funding is going toward various events.


But indigenous rights activist, Tina Ngata is calling for a boycott.

"I see him as a murderer, a mass murderer," she said. "I see him as a tool of a white supremacist machine of imperial expansionism. And I see him as a white supremacist.

"He was a very cruel man, even by the standard of those times. It was noted that he became excessively cruel, particularly in his later journals, and he is prone to torture and abduction."

Ngata has just returned from New York, where she spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

"It's really important that we focus on what he did and not what he said. I know a lot of his defenders like to point out the nice things he said about us, but he was saying it while he was killing us."

Lawyer and Cook enthusiast Joe Martin has studied the life of Captain Cook for more than 30 years and sees Cook quite differently.

"Like all activists, they take an extreme position to get some conversation going. I just encourage everyone to read the recorded history," he said.

"A lot of history isn't nice. A lot of good things happened. History is just the narrative of what happened, it's the collective experience of mankind, and we should not ignore history.

"Celebration or commemoration, it happened. It's a fact of the history of this country.

"I would like people to read what he wrote, especially on indigenous people in the Pacific and Australia. He was quite forward thinking and he's not a mass murderer, that's an egregious term that I have no time for."

Ngata sees history differently.

"The way that we choose to characterise and remember people says a lot about who we are and what we value," she said. "And when you diminish the fact that he carried out mass slaughters of indigenous people, in favour of the fact that he was a skilled navigator, it says something about how you value indigenous people."

Local Councillor, Meredith Akuhata-Brown welcomes the debate around one of our most defining moments.

"Local Iwi were killed and that is the fact and it's not about right and wrong in this space, it's just what it is," she said. "It's uncomfortable to talk about. In my view this is a great space for courageous conversation and to make it right."

The Cook statue will be on display at the Tairāwhiti Musuem by the end of the year.

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