Most of the Government is keeping a distance from the British Government's statement of regret to Gisborne-based iwi for nine deaths 250 years by the crew of Captain James Cook, but Winston Peters says Māori should not forget their own track record.
British High Commissioner Laura Clarke made statements of regret on behalf of the British Government in two ceremonies, after months of negotiation, first to Ngāti Oneone, and then to the three Tūranga iwi: Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga a Māhaki.
It is understood that the iwi had initially requested apologies from the Royal Society of London, on whose behalf Cook had travelled to New Zealand in 1769 in pursuit of scientific discoveries.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern referred comment on the issue to Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis.
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He said it was a matter for the Turanga iwi and the British High Commission and it would not be appropriate to comment, although added that the Government provided Crown apologies for past action through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.
Peters did not want to comment on the British moves.
But he said Māori should remember that their own track record "has not been as pure as the driven snow" when it comes loss of life in bygone eras.
It was time to make the best of contact between Māori and European, said Peters, who is the New Zealand First leader, Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and a member of the northern iwi of Ngati Wai.
"If you don't want the celebrations, then stay home and let people celebrate what they want to celebrate."
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It was for the British to decide what they regard as appropriate.
"All I'm saying I've heard some comment from some Māori who don't seem to realise that their own track record – and being from Nga Puhi I can say this – has not been as pure as the driven snow."
He also cited the Chatham Islands where, according the deed of settlement recently initialled between the Government and Moriori, about 300 or one sixth of its population was killed by two invading Taranaki iwi in 1835 and 1836.
"Let's accept that it happened, let's try and celebrate what was good about the connection and the Māori being both an inquisitive and acquisitive people and realise we have made some giant strides despite all that so let's get on with developing our country," Peters said.
Laura Clarke is staying over in Gisborne and is expected to be given a tour on Thursday of significant historic sites.
A direct descendant of Te Maro, who was killed during Cook's first excursion in Poverty Bay, Nick Tupara of Ngati Oneone, welcomed the move.
"I think our high commissioner is brave to come and offer that, and that's enough for now," he told 1News.
The statement was better than an apology, he said.
"An apology suggests to me that you make a statement and we have left it at that," he told RNZ.
"Whereas a statement of regret suggests there is an opening for some dialogue going forward. It suggests a possibility of a relationship working together and growing together helping each other out. I am very optimistic that this statement of regret is a far more poignant opportunity for Ngāti Oneone and for the rest of our community to find pathways as a collective."
The High Commission issued statement ahead of Clarke's visit saying: "The British High Commissioner will acknowledge the pain of those first encounters, acknowledge that the pain does not diminish over time, and extend her sympathy to the descendants of those killed."
Both James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks had written in their diaries of their regret at the deaths, the statement said.
"It is not how any of us would have wanted those first encounters to have transpired."
Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri will be among the tour guides, belonging as she does to Rongowhakaata as well as Ngati Kahungunu. She said it was a significant day.
"It's been a hurt and untold reality for descendants of those killed by Cook 250 years ago and he has never taken responsibility or been held accountable for it.
"The statement will enable closure of an unjust act but just as importantly, enable an ongoing relationship (which has started already) between descendants of those who were killed and Cook's descendants and people."
She said her hope for the future was for a formal relationship between the iwi and the Royal Society in Britain including scholarships, information exchanges and access to Cook's journals.
She said it had been hard for iwi to watch the celebrations around the James Cook's arrival given its history his arrival.
"The Prime Minister's recent announcement of NZ History in schools will help rebalance our history, warts and all."