Over the past few weeks we have been thinking about our history.
This October has been the 250th anniversary of the arrival of British people to these islands. The Dutch had sailed past more than a century earlier, but Captain James Cook’s Endeavour was the first to stay and to interact with the Maori residents who had, of course, discovered these islands 500 years or so earlier.
Those early encounters in 1769 started a process that led to the development of the nation of which we are rightly proud today.
She shouldn’t hesitate to celebrate that connection; acknowledging all the imperfections of our history, but being proud of what we’ve achieved.
Jacinda Ardern and her Government routinely encourage us to celebrate diversity – such as we’ve seen with the arrival of many different cultures to this country in recent decades. And we do. There’s much to celebrate.
But, strangely, she and her ministers pointedly refuse to use the word celebrate in relation to the 250th anniversary of the connection between the two founding cultures of this country.
They prefer the word ‘commemoration’ – a word which we use in relation to disasters like Gallipoli and Passchendaele.
I find that rather sad.
The strong implication is that the arrival of the British to our country is not really something to celebrate.
It’s not too far from there to conclude that the many Kiwis who have some British ancestry should feel vaguely ashamed of our history and the development of our nation.
That’s a sad foundation for a country. We can do much better.
Of course, bad things have happened in our history. James Cook’s first encounter didn’t pass peacefully. There has been trouble and strife since.
The later process of Colonisation was fraught for Maori, many of whom suffered great loss.
Maori had lived in isolation for centuries. Inevitably, when the rest of the world figured out how to sail around the globe and found these beautiful islands, rich in resources, they would be forced to reconnect with the rest of humanity.
That reconnection would always be challenging – not least because diseases for which they had built up no immunity would ravage generations.
Humans, meantime, in all ages have fought over land and resources. After Cook came guns, which amped up traditional Maori fights dramatically.
Against that, many things that came after Cook massively enriched the lives of the inhabitants – protein-rich food, the written word, metal, wheels, access to the rest of humanity’s literature, religion, music, science and stories etc etc.
Did the good outweigh the bad?
Surely, we have to say, yes. Our self-belief and self-respect as a nation, which happens to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world and which routinely sits near the top of broader measures of wellbeing – such as freedom and tolerance – demands it.
Anniversaries like this provide an opportunity for each of us to consider things from the other point of view, to try to understand other people’s experience of history, the impact of past events. That’s challenging. We’d all benefit from reflecting on the highs and lows of our history.
But, in my view, we shouldn’t hesitate to celebrate what we, together have created over the 250 years since Maori and British people met. And to celebrate the fact that they did meet.
Sure, we’re not perfect and never have been. Who is? Whoever has been?
But we should take pride in what we all have achieved, and what we’ve received from each other.
It is the most natural instinct in the world to take pride in the place you call home. Many of us feel blessed to have been born in the ‘greatest little country in the world’.
It would be a pity to have that pride drained from us because we’ve never come close to perfection.