An "expression of regret" from the British government

Today, the British High Commissioner will make an “expression of regret” for the killing of Māori when Royal Navy Captain James Cook arrived in Aotearoa in 1769. This is significant not just for the ancestor of those killed, but in the fact that this is the British Government, not the New Zealand Government. The careful wording (that is, not an actual apology) is probably so the British government can avoid being seen to apologise for past wrongs in other parts of its former Empire.

The relevant minister in our government - the Minister for Crown0Māori Relations, Kelvin Davis has said that this is "…nothing to do with us” and that the expression of regret is “…entirely an issue between the High Commission and the Turanga iwi. And what the High Commission has to say to Turanga iwi is entirely up to them."

With the exception of the Waikato Tainui Treaty Settlement, where the Queen signed the legislation that included an apology (itself a workaround so that the Queen didn’t directly apologise for the confiscation of iwi land), it has been the New Zealand Government that has issued apologies to Māori, and worked to settle historical Treaty claims.

That, of course, means everything since the Treaty was signed in 1840. Before then it appears now that the British government is accepting some culpability for what happened. It has been suggested that the Treaty settlement process has meant that “the Crown” has acquired a new relevance; it appears that the British government’s actions in expressing regret for Captain James Cook will now make it clear that when we talk about “the Crown”, we mean the modern post-colony New Zealand government.

(Picture: Matavai Bay, painted by William Hodges, member of an expedition led by Cook)