“Talk to us — that’s the whole point,” said a protester at this morning’s extraordinary meeting of Gisborne district councillors as they voted unanimously to revoke their earlier decision to install models of James Cook’s Endeavour in Gisborne city without community consultation.
Tina Ngata’s comment followed operations committee chairman Larry Foster’s closing remarks over what the appropriate imagery for the district might be, suggesting the possibility of a Maori and Pakeha embracing with a hongi and earning a rebuke from Ms Ngata.
In revoking their decision, all 13 councillors and Mayor Rehette Stoltz agreed to instead “seek widespread community feedback and to consult specifically with Tairawhiti iwi about the future location for the Endeavour replicas”.
But councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown called on her colleagues to go a step further.
“The right thing to do is to stop saying we will consult with tangata whenua – we will partner, we will be on the same page, we will work together, we will understand, because we’re just peeling the scab off a sore that’s deep, a wound.”
Her comments were widely applauded by members of the public who watched the meeting unfold after gathering outside the council building from 7.30am to protest the earlier decision with placards, one reading “no more racist monuments”.
Councillor Andy Cranston did not receive the same warm reception, having supported the earlier decision to not consult over the location for the models.
Only councillors Akuhata-Brown, Josh Wharehinga and Tony Robinson voted against the May 28 decision to not carry out public consultation.
Cr Cranston today acknowledged the emotion in the meeting room and said: “It’s absolutely clear to all councillors and myself included that we should consult with iwi, and I think we do it really well.”
The Endeavour models had been contentious “for many, many years” and the council had “gone a little off track” by choosing not to consult, he said.
Mayor Rehette Stoltz, who submitted a notice of motion to revoke the earlier decision, along with Cr Akuhata-Brown, said community members were calling on the council to consult.
“This is what we should do as a council,” Mayor Stoltz said of today’s decision.
Councillor Debbie Gregory said she wanted to apologise for her earlier vote against consultation.
To many Maori the models symbolised colonialism and it would be wrong to put them up in downtown Gisborne when they could affect “a huge part of our community in a negative way”, Cr Gregory said.
“Everyone should be able to come to town, go to the supermarket and do their business without that burden.”
Councillor Robinson wanted the consultation process “to encompass and allow for a conversation which says the location for those Endeavours is not this community”.
His colleague, Bill Burdett, said he agreed with the sentiment that the council needed to work together with iwi.
But he added: “We represent the whole community and when you pander to one section you piss the other side off, big time.”