Youth Press Gallery

Last week in Gisborne, on the East Coast, a statue of Captain Cook was vandalised, in a demonstration of angst towards the separate sides of New Zealand’s history. It was a clear indication of tensions still present in Maori and Pākehā relations, 250 years after Cook first landed in Poverty Bay in 1769.

That first landing was not a peaceful one: it resulted in the death of several Maori at the hands of Cook’s crew. New Zealand’s early history is rife with controversy, injustice and too often, violence: but many feel that the majority of people don’t understand all sides of the story.

This fault can be particularly attributed to education, says Youth MP Pounamu Wharehinga. The issue is felt strongly by the young wāhine from Gisborne. “People are racist about [New Zealand History] because they don’t understand our side of the story,” Wharehinga argues. If New Zealand and Maori history was taught in schools, the tensions between Maori and Pakeha might be alleviated, she suggested.

At the 2019 Youth Parliament event, Wharehinga put the question to the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, during question time. Asking a supplementary question in Te Reo Maori, Wharehinga asked what the plans were for including the teaching of both indigenous and non-indigenous sides of history, in reference to the Treaty of Waitangi, in New Zealand’s education system.

The Minister responded to explain there wasn’t really a need for plans, as there was no present issue with the inclusion of the Treaty of Waitangi in the curriculum. “There is an emphasis on Te Tiriti all the way through the curriculum. It’s actually one of the guiding things that informs the curriculum implementation,” he said.

At the question prior to Wharehinga’s, similarly about the teaching of Maori history in schools, the Minister had stated the problem was not on the Ministry, but on the individual schools. “It’s not really a question of compulsion because it’s already there in the curriculum. It’s just that some schools aren’t putting enough emphasis on it.”

Wharehinga was not satisfied by the Ministers answer. “I feel like asking it in Maori, with an interpreter… I just feel like I wasn’t clear enough for what I was looking for…I wanted to really know what the plans are for Maori history being compulsory in this school curriculum.”

Wharehinga thinks that issues of racism between Maori and Pakeha, a source of anger and frustration for many people, could be solved through proper education on the history of how our country came to be what we are presently and why it was no fair road to get here.

Through proper education of history from the perspective of all races, mutual understanding could finally be built. After all, it was a great misunderstanding that caused the first lethal conflict between Maori and Pakeha.

250 years on, it’s about time we get to work understanding both sides of the story. “If they had just made [Maori History] a compulsory thing throughout New Zealand then we wouldn’t have to vandalise statues like that to get our point across.”

The Youth parliament Maori Affairs select committee included in their final report a recommendation for compulsory teaching of accurate domestic New Zealand history in years 9 and 10.

In Charlottesville in 2017, people rioted over the statue of a racist and genocidal general. Some people have said the same about Cook’s recently vandalised statue in Gisborne.

Wharehinga is clear that Cook is not the ‘amazing man’ he is set out to be by conventional teachings of history. “He came and he slaughtered, murdered, raped, cast out, stole, took our land, while his statue remains standing, for now, in Gisborne.”

“But I think it was the lack of understanding between his people and our people, Maori people, that caused the death of Maori. If only they had known that Te Maro was inviting them into our arms in a Maori, traditional and cultural way then none of that chaos would have happened.”

To Youth MP’s such as Wharehinga, understanding our past is the key to fixing the issues of the present and they are certainly setting the stage to address New Zealand’s social and racial division.

the common room

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