The British Government this week conveyed a formal expression of regret to Gisborne-based iwi for deaths involving Captain James Cook 250 years ago. The utterings of atonement were made by British High Commissioner Laura Clarke in private marae meetings but stopped short of an apology.
Clarke held two meetings in Gisborne: first with Ngāti Oneone about midday, and then with the three Tūranga iwi - Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga a Māhaki - a few hours later.
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Some of their tīpuna were among the nine Māori killed or wounded in Cook's first landing in New Zealand in 1769, the grief for which has endured over the centuries.
The Ngāti Oneone leader Te Maro was shot dead by one of Cook's men on October 8 - the first day of landing. The following day, the Rongowhakata chief Te Rakau was killed and others wounded, and later that day several more Māori were killed. Cook headed north from there and more Māori were killed in confrontations at Mercury Bay and the Cavalli Islands.
The killings appear to have been triggered by Cook's men misunderstanding Te Maro's intentions. According to Joesph Angus Mackay's account, published in Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z (1949): "The coxswain of the pinnace, in an attempt to intimidate the natives, fired twice over their heads. The first shot caused the natives to stop and look around, but they took no notice of the second. A third shot was then fired, and it killed one of the natives upon the spot just as he was going to throw his spear at the boat."
However, the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust version is Cook and his crew trespassed, terrorised, killed and stole treasures from the iwi in a two-hour raid.
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"Cook and his crew landed on the banks of the Tūranganui River at 4pm. Within 30 minutes, they had opened fire and Te Maro was dead. Our whanaunga [family] was the first casualty of the collision. Before they returned to The Endeavour at 6pm, crew members Banks and Solander had time to steal our taonga."
Whichever is nearer the truth, the expressed contrition has been timed just days before a Government-funded commemoration of Cook's landing, including a replica of his sailing ship Endeavour along with a flotilla of other vessels. The anniversary events have been decried by some Māori as insensitive and protests are expected at this weekend's events.
It's also not without precedent. In 2013, Britain expressed regret and agreed to compensation for those tortured in prison during Kenya's Mau Mau insurgency.
Earlier this year, on the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre by British troops in India, killing 379 according to official figures, the government expressed "deep regret" – but again stopped short of an official apology.
Some have asked how many apologies will Britain offer, as its colonial actions go back to the plantations of Ireland in the 16th Century and stretch around the globe in the centuries since.
In New Zealand's case, it appears several iwi have laboured under sorrow and a loss of mana - none the least living with the historically inaccurate sobriquet of Poverty Bay - ever since the landing and have made repeated pleas to be heard. This time, amid commemoration plans, they have been.
It should be welcomed in the spirit of reconciliation.