WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

150 years of land alienation in Waitara

The season of Lent is about hikoi. It is about the external hikoi that we experience, like the relentless rolling over of the seasons. It is about the hikoi of collective remembering through the days and weeks informed by sacred tradition, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, until we stand, a pilgrim people, at the foot of the Cross. Lent is the Christ hikoi to Calvary, and the hikoi of his people through repentance, forgiveness and restoration to redemption.
The Lenten hikoi is also about the hikoi of the interior. It is about the call to metanoia, to change our heart. The Lenten call to metanoia echoes the call of the Old Testament prophets to ‘rend not your garments, but rather rend your heart’. It is the call to authenticity. If we do not embrace the internal hikoi of metanoia then our external hikoi is in danger of being reduced to cultic re-enactments and token gestures.

Colonial invasion
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Crown undertook a hikoi to Waitara in the Taranaki. It was a hikoi for empire-building. They brought men armed with guns and cannons. Their purpose was violence, oppression and theft driven by colonial greed. It was about ugliness and spitefulness and hard-heartedness.
One hundred and fifty years ago, on March 17, colonial troops began the bombardment of Wiremu Kingi’s Te Kohia Pa. It was an unprovoked act of aggression against iwi desiring nothing more than to live, as they had done for generations, in peace on their own land. One hundred and fifty years ago, the Crown came to Waitara and it was about sin.
It would appear somewhat fitting then, that in the final days of Lent this year, the Crown again returned to Waitara. The term used for this hikoi was ‘reconciliation’. To the sound of military drum beat, the same sound that heralded the dispossession of Maori land 150 years ago, and amid smiles and handshakes, the Crown signed the documents that will allow negotiations to proceed to address historical grievances.
However, the question that begs a response is, ‘Has the heart of the Crown undergone metanoia? Has the heart of the Crown changed? Has the Crown made that interior hikoi from the mindset of empire-building, of maintaining the power base, to one of repentance and reconciliation?’
I fear the Crown’s overtures of reconciliation have more to do with political expediency than social justice. The fact that Maori now have a stronger political voice than has historically been the case, I am sure, is not lost on the Crown. It could be argued that the Crown’s hikoi to Waitara on March 17 had more to do with maintaining privilege and position than seeking reconciliation and offering restoration.
You see, reconciliation is often a fraught term, defined by those who place self-interest above restorative justice. We need ponder no further than the Foreshore and Seabed to realise that the repetitive patterns of behaviour by the Crown toward Maori over the past 150 years have not changed, just the methodology for dispossession has altered.
If we as a Catholic community are truly to embrace the Lenten hikoi and its call to metanoia, then where must we stand? Do we truly stand at the foot of the cross? Do we stand beside Wiremu Kingi, beside Titokowaru, do we stand with Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi? Do we lend our voices to their voices of protest and hope? Will our voices be for social justice as we continue the Foreshore and Seabed conversation? If we who claim discipleship would reflect on the face of the crucified Christ we need look no further than Parihaka.
On March 17 this year the Crown came again to Waitara in Taranaki. They spoke of the possibility of generosity in negotiations. What does this mean?
What does it mean to be generous against a landscape of 150 years of economic deprivation? What does it mean to be generous in the face of 150 years of concerted effort to destroy the social cohesion of a people, to dispossess them so utterly and completely, to deny them the right to order their own affairs in the way they had done for centuries before, to deny them the right to develop themselves and their whenua in the manner of their own choosing? What does it mean to be generous?
In the light of the sins committed against Taranaki iwi perhaps the term generosity more aptly describes the grace with which Te Atiawa received the Crown back to Waitara on March 17.
If the Crown is sincere about reconciliation, if they are truly repentant for what was done at Waitara 150 years ago, then let them show their true heart. The truth is the truth, the whenua belongs to Maori, it was stolen from them – give it back.
Cushla Low is a member of the JPD Commission in the Palmerston North Diocese.
See Talks to start over Taranaki Land  www.welcom.org.nz/?sid=1263