Hamilton must act to "purge itself of blatant reminders of a colonial invasion" say Waikato-Tainui, as the iwi renews its call for the city to adopt the original name Kirikiriroa.
At the request of the iwi, Hamilton City Council this morning removed from Civic Square the statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who killed Māori in the Waikato land war and never set foot in the city that takes his name.
Huntly kaumatua Taitimu Maipi had said he was going to remove the statue himself, as a wave of protests against racism and oppression sweep the globe after the killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of United States police.
About 50 curious onlookers gathered to watch the statue's removal this morning - a few of them cheered as the statue was lifted onto a truck and taken away.
Waikato-Tainui executive chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said they welcomed the removal of the statue as a "step in the right direction".
"Waikato-Tainui had been active in identifying street names and other landmarks that were particularly offensive to our people."
This included a call to begin the process removing Hamilton entirely as the name of the city and adopting Kirikiriroa, the original Māori name, which means "long stretch of gravel" and is a reference to an area on the west bank of the Waikato River.
The idea was also supported by former mayor Andrew King in 2018, but didn't gain public support.
Iwi officials had been working with the council for almost a year on offensive landmarks.
"Recent international attention has further enhanced the spotlight, which has now placed the council as leading the national narrative on these matters and we encourage other councils across the country to take note of their response."
Iwi chief executive Donna Flavell called for the statue's removal in an email to the council yesterday.
"As you know, late last year Hamilton City council agreed to commission a report identifying a number of street names which were considered culturally inappropriate to Waikato-Tainui," the email reads.
"Many of the names of streets and places (including the name 'Hamilton') are named after colonial figures in our early history and are a stark reminder of the raupatu (land confiscations), resulting land wars and the consequential effects and impact of the raupatu to Waikato.
"This was a devastating time for our people and these injustices of the past should not be a continual reminder as we look to grow and develop our beautiful city into the future."
The email said the debate had moved to identifying the underlying issues associated with cultural alienation and the associated intergenerational trauma.
"The international condemnation of these iconic figures is a timely reminder to us all. Hamilton City must act to purge itself of these blatant reminders of a colonial invasion that breached every article of the Treaty of Waitangi."
Offensive street names include Bryce and Von Tempskey, other British military leaders who killed Māori.
But Mayor Paula Southgate said a name change was "not on the agenda".
The council has not discussed changing the name of the city, but she herself used the "dual names".
She said a growing number of people found the Hamilton statue personally and culturally offensive.
"We can't ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we. At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don't think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps."
Council chief executive Richard Briggs said the council decided to remove the statue after Waikato-Tainui's request yesterday because it was likely to be vandalised.
"We know this statue is contentious for a number of our community members.
"If the statue were to be forcefully removed from its current position, as has been indicated, it could severely undermine the integrity of the building below it."
It was not about erasing history but instead understanding the wider context behind it, he said.
"We have been working collaboratively with Waikato-Tainui for more than 12 months on a project to review culturally sensitive place names and sites. We understand this work is vitally important in raising awareness to cultural harm which has taken place."
Dr Arama Rate of University of Waikato watched the statue's removal.
"I would like to see it either destroyed or in a watery grave."
This week a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, UK, was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters, after a rally against the death of African-American George Floyd and racial injustice.
In London, as the statue of prominent slave trader Robert Milligan was removed, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a Commission for Diversity would be formed, tasked with reviewing the British capital's statues and landmarks to ensure they "suitably reflect London's achievements and diversity".
In Aotearoa/New Zealand, hundreds of statues depicting colonial history are scattered across the country with little or no balance with Māori history, streets and places have been named after slave traders who never set foot here, and city grids are in the shape of the Union Jack in mainly Māori towns conquered by British forces.
On Thursday Māori Party co-leader and Te Tai Hauāuru candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer called on the Government to establish an inquiry to identify and remove racist monuments, statues and names from the country's colonial era.
"We have children, growing up proud of who they are, learning about history, and then seeing streets and parks named after racists who murdered their tūpuna," Ngarewa-Packer said.