A new seven-part video series explores what it means to be Pākehā, 250 years after Captain Cook's arrival in New Zealand.

Jen Margaret grew up in the South Island town of Doyleston, which bears her ancestor's name.

She liked to think of her family as progressive - until she learned the town was founded
on land stolen from Māori and won in a running race by her great-great grandfather.

When Margaret learned her family's history she turned her focus to the Treaty of Waitangi and has subsequently become a treaty educator – teaching Pākehā about the links between how the treaty was dishonoured and poor statistics for Māori across health, housing and imprisonment.

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Now living in Wellington, Margaret speaks out in an episode of the short documentary series Land of the Long White Cloud called Inheriting Privilege.

Pākehā New Zealanders are creating blocks for Māori to pursue their own health and wellbeing, she says.

"We can't understand Te Tīriti itself if we don't understand this context of hundreds of years of settlement of tangata whenua and that they had all the systems in place of law, education, health and then understanding the process that followed, which was a complete disregard of Te Tiriti and the process of colonisation."

On the eve of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Māori were 97 per cent of the population but European settlers claimed to own 27 million hectares of New Zealand land, more than the total land mass of the country.

Jen Margaret discovered her family's land was stolen from Māori. Photo / Mint Suite
Jen Margaret discovered her family's land was stolen from Māori. Photo / Mint Suite

By 1862, 22 years after the treaty was signed, settlers had arrived in droves, meaning Māori were then only half the population and almost all of the South Island was Crown land. By the end of the century the Māori population would be less than 6 per cent.

Now, nearly 180 years since the treaty was signed, living conditions for Māori are poor. A report released by the government in February 2018 stated that "Rising housing costs have contributed to declining home ownership rates, greater housing instability, and Māori and Pacific peoples living in poor-quality housing. By 2013, Māori and Pacific homeownership rates had declined relatively rapidly to 28 per cent for Māori and 19 per cent for Pacific peoples, compared with 57 per cent for Europeans."

In Auckland, Māori are approximately 12 per cent of the population but make up nearly 43 per cent of the homeless population according to a study by the Housing First Collective last year.

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Margaret says that generations later her ancestor's stolen land has benefited each of her great-great-grandfather's descendents. "There's material privilege that comes from growing up on stolen lands. There's the privilege of the kids in the school books having the same colour skin as me, the same kind of names. In the media my people, Pākehā, have been positively portrayed. That's the privilege: that you become the normal."

Jen Margaret's ancestors had a town, Doyleston, named after them in Canterbury. Photo / Mint Suite
Jen Margaret's ancestors had a town, Doyleston, named after them in Canterbury. Photo / Mint Suite

But the Doyleston land is no longer in Margaret's family, so she can't simply give it back.

Instead she works with Pākehā through her organisation Groundwork so that they understand what the treaty ultimately promised Māori, how those promises were dishonoured and how this has left subsequent generations on the back foot, while affording Pākehā privileges that 250 years since Captain Cook's arrival they are still benefiting from.

Pākehā filmmaker Kathleen Winter, who directed the series, says that Margaret's story is important because "the story of her great-great-grandfather is both unique and universal, and highlights the ways that we Pākehā can look to sanitised versions of the past to absolve us. Once we see our history honestly, we can start asking the question - what can I do now?"

Margaret says all Pākehā have a responsibility in restoring the balance.

"I can't change the story of my ancestors but I can try to build a different future."

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Watch all the episodes at nzherald.co.nz/captaincook