Topic: Battle of Gate Pa Commemoration: Reconciliation Address (29 April 2014) by Rev. John Hebenton

Topic type:

Rev. John Hebenton TSSF, Vicar of the Anglican Parish of Gate Pā, gave the following address at the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 2014.

Your Excellency, Lt General Sir Jerry Mataparae; King Tu Heitia, Ministers of the Crown, Chief of the Defence Staff, Mayors and Councillors, Rau rangatira ma, me nga iwi o Tauranga Moana, me nga hau e wha – iwi Maori iwi Pakeha – tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou...

It is a huge privilege to be asked to speak today.

I am the vicar of St. Georges Anglican Church here at Gate Pa, on the hill of Pukehinahina. Our story is entwined with the story of the events we remember today

The church was conceived as a memorial Church in 1880's and built in 1900 in honour of the British troops who died here.

It was named after St. George. There is a Muslim saying about St. George which says that the righteous act is to confront the tyrant. George died confronting the Emperor Diocletian. We remember those today who stood against the tyrant and fought here. George is a very apt saint to be named after

In 1960's a new entrance was built in memory of Maori who died here.

The new church, built in 1993 was built as a memorial to all who fought and died.

Above the door as you enter the church are the words, "All who enter here be reconciled". Our hope is that we are symbol of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a significant theme of these commemoration events. It is why we are here today.

The dictionaries I looked at define reconciliation as restoring friendly relationships between people or groups.  We are here today to continue the work of restoring friendly relationships between nga iwi o Tauranga Moana and those of us who are more recent arrivals.

A place to start is to know and retell the story, and for those of us here because of these events, to say sorry.  As I learn about what happened here leading up to both this battle and the Battle at Te Ranga and what happened after that, I am left with conflicting emotions. There is so much about what happened that I regret, that I wish had not happened or that some of those involved had made different decisions. The intrinsic belief that British culture was superior, was and continues to be wrong. All the decisions that were made motivated by that belief were also wrong. Added to this was the ever present hunger for more land by the ever growing numbers of European settlers. These beliefs and this hunger led to the decision to use force to meet these needs. And for me this was wrong. The decision by Bishop Selwyn to instruct the missionaries to offer pastoral support to the British troops as well as continue work among tangata whenua turned out to be a bad decision. The decision by CMS to grant their holding of land here in Tauranga Moana to the Settler Government for the creation of a military settlement without any reference to those hapu who had offered it to Brown in the first place was I believe, wrong. All this and more saddens me and I can only apologise. I wish my forebears had done better.

However, to just focus on the story will not lead to reconciliation. There are so many versions of what happened here. While we can agree on some of the basic facts, when it comes to the stories of the people which makes this a real event it becomes much more complicated. For example, while we can agree that someone or some people gave water to a or some wounded or dying British soldiers, it becomes much harder to say who.

The impact of this story also changes depending on who you are. While some of us tell this story to the best of our ability trying to honour the complexities and those who participated as much as we can, it remains for us a story about other people. A story that shapes our present, but somehow not involving me.

But as I listen to kaumatua tell this story, I realise you tell it very differently. It is your story. Some heard it from those who knew the people involved. It is your whanau. And you have lived with the consequences all your lives, and continue to live with those consequences. It is personal and real. Your understanding of what happened here will always be different from mine because of that. And so how I experience this story is different, and how you hear my apology is shaped by that.

The story of what happened here also carries a load of cultural assumptions. It is now clear that what Archdeacon Brown understood he was doing in the transactions for the land was not how the hapu involved understood it. All of that means that sometimes we are not even saying sorry for the right things, and we continue to cause pain and the relationship is not restored, let alone friendly.

Finally, when we just focus on the story of these battles, those of us who are more recent arrivals fail to see the social, economic, political, cultural and spiritual loss the land confiscations cause to nga iwi o Tauranga Moana. While we can think that just saying sorry is enough it is not until we address those losses.

It turns out reconciliation is a lot more complicated than our little sign implies. And it involves more than just saying sorry.

At the heart of Christianity is the notion of repentance. Acknowledging that wrong has been done and seeking to live in new ways, in God's grace, that looks to both stop that wrong and undo its effects. Or to put in another, repentance is living out the sorry. And that is what is needed here.

Living the sorry means seeking to first of all right the wrongs of the past. Learning the story is important. But not just the story of this battle and Te Ranga, but the whole story including the Bush Campaign of 1867, and the ongoing effects of the land confiscations.

To be reconciled also means learning to not continue the wrongs of the past in our present actions and attitudes. And it means more publically and deliberately recognising the presence of iwi and hapū on this land well before these events.

My hope is that these commemorations will help us take big strides in being reconciled. I hope that those of us who are more recent settlers in this land will learn from the attitudes, actions and grace of some of our forebears in this place. People like Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi Te Waharoa, who tirelessly worked to find ways for Maori and European to live side by side, each benefiting from the other and allowing each the resources they needed to flourish as Maori and European.

People like Rawiri Puhirake, Henare Wiremu Taratoa and Heni te Kiri Karamu whose courage, generosity and mercy changed how many experienced the horror of these event, and how they are understood and remembered.

The theme for this commemoration is “by understanding our history, we can see how far our community has come, and look forward to our future together.” As I look at the photos of this event 50 years ago I se we have come along way. We have along way to go. I look forward to commemorating this event every year as a city, not eveyr 50. I look forward to having a place in our city that tells the story of these events.

 My hope is that this commemoration will help us learn and understand all our history, with all it's complexities.

I also hope that we can learn to live the sorry. This will not be easy. There is an old whakatauki, ‘he waka eke noa’, we’re all in this together.

May we learn to live well together.

May all who live here be reconciled.

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Battle of Gate Pa Commemoration: Reconciliation Address (29 April 2014) by Rev. John Hebenton

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Battle of Gate Pa Commemoration: Reconciliation Address (29 April 2014) by Rev. John Hebenton by Debbie McCauley (Tauranga City Libraries) is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International