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Anglican Church of New Zealand apologises for Colonial-era Maori land-snatch

Posted on: December 4, 2018 2:25 PM
Bishops from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia express sorrow at an 1866 decision by CMS which dispossessed Maori people of their lands.
Photo Credit: Anglican Taonga

Archbishop Philip Richardson, the senior bishop of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ANZP) in New Zealand, has apologised to the Maori people from Tauranga (Tauranga Moana) for an 1866 decision which saw them dispossessed of their lands. Since 1975 the Crown has issued several apologies for the actions of colonial and post-colonial governments, which stripped the first people of the islands of their inherited land, but on Saturday, “the serious work of putting things right entered a new, profound and personal dimension” when the ANZP “said sorry, publicly, for its part in dispossessing Tauranga Moana people of their birth right”, Anglican Taonga reported.

Two Maori groups, Ngati Tapu and Ngai Tamarawaho, had entrusted 1333 acres of land to the Church Missionary Society. In 1866, the CMS gave the land to the Crown. “With heads hung low, two of the most senior bishops of this church apologised” for the decision”, Anglican Taonga said. “True, the CMS had come under intolerable pressure from the Crown to sell out. But that land was not CMS’s to sell, nor to give away – but once given, it was gone forever, and the [two Maori clans] were thrown into poverty.”

Saturday’s apology was read, slowly, in te reo – the Maori language – by Pihopa (Bishop) Ngarahu Katene of Te Hui Amorangi (the diocese of) Manawa O Te Wheke; and in English by Archbishop Philip Richardson.

“Then the day reached its pivotal, unscripted and most solemn moment – when Archbishop Philip sank to his knees on the grass”, Anglican Taonga said. “He raised the General Synod-mandated apology above his head and with eyes down, he offered the document, which is sealed with the Primates’ seal, to elders Puhirake Ihaka from the Ngati Tapu clan, and and Peri Kohu of the Ngai Tamarawaho kaumatua clan.

Historian Dr Alistair Reese, whose work underpinned the church apology, explained the background to the Church’s decision in 1866, saying that “the colonial government and its troops put unrelenting pressure on the CMS”. Archbishop Philip and Pihopa Ngarahu then read the text of the formal apology.

The 16th Bishop of Waiapu, Andrew Hedge, told the 200-strong crown how he stood in an unbroken chain of leadership to the first Bishop of Waiapu, William Williams, and to Williams’ colleague and friend, Archdeacon Alfred Brown. Both of them were on the CMS Lands Board and had taken the decision to give most of the land which had been entrusted to them to the Crown.

“I have never before experienced the palpable sense of overwhelming grief that was present”, he said, as he spoke of the General Synod debate and apology that led to the weekend’s events. “Those of us here from Te Hahi Mihinare [the Anglican Church], as we support the reading and presentation of this apology, bring to this day the representative grief of a nation of Anglican bishops, clergy and laity. . .

“We come with solemn sadness that the events of the past have cast such a long shadow on the generations that have followed and left a legacy of injustice and controversy. We come in the anticipation that this act of repentance may help to shine a light of reconciliation across this whenua [land].”

  • This article is based on a more in-depth article by Anglican Taonga.

  • This article was amended on 5 December 2018 to correct a mis-translation of Tauranga Moana hapu as Maori people from Lake Tauranga. In this context, Tauranga Moana refers to a peninsula that juts into a Pacific Ocean harbour in what is now the city of Tauranga.