An apology only works for healing if it is sincere and if it is accepted. We teach our children to apologise and to be genuine if they want to be forgiven. On Friday, June 9 at Parihaka, the Crown apologised to the people of Parihaka and many of us wept. Only a block of wood could not have felt the grief and compassion that embraced us when we walked through the village and marae, while the conch called out and the karanga opened the way. When the children of Parihaka sang and raised their poi we were taken back in time to those terrible days when the Crown came to this place of dedicated peaceful self-determination and assaulted the unarmed community.
Walking on as part of the Crown, as a Member of the Parliament that had once legislated the violence against Parihaka, I was very conscious of the word “privilege”. To be there for the reconciliation moment was an absolute privilege, but also as a Pākeha I have experienced the privileges that have been bestowed on my culture based on the theft of land and life. Privilege can wrap people in a sense of entitlement and dominance which blocks our view of historical injustice. The normalisation of what has taken place in Aotearoa was stripped away at Parihaka, especially when a group of wāhine, heads wreathed in the green leaves of mourning, performed the waiata that has been handed down which describes the rape of their great grandmothers by the Crown soldiers. I defy anyone to be proud that the wealth of some of us has been built on the rape of women, the imprisonment of men far from home without trial, and the attack on children’s safety and means of survival. We learned that the people of Parihaka had to carry a pass to enter or leave the village, their human rights were stripped and their food sources blocked off.
This litany of disgraceful and oppressive actions was in the context of a visionary kaupapa led by two men of peace whose manifesto for nonviolence predated the Satyagraha campaign led by Ghandi. With flowers, food and song the hapū at Parihaka welcomed the soldiers. With the plough, they resisted the loss of their lands. We saw a plough on the paepae, a humble aged object, presented as a taonga of the people, a symbol of their connection to and defence of whenua. Some of us were also given a small woven basket containing the potato and the poi and embellished with the white feather. A young girl placed this in my hands and the hongi from her small cold nose was a seal upon the message, such forgiveness and generosity made the air bright.
During the account of the long hard history and the signing of the Deed of Reconciliation, the whānau performed uplifting waiata and a spontaneous haka, tiny children leaping and roaring proudly beside uncles, fathers and grandfathers.
At the hākari, I sat opposite the descendants of William Rolleston who was Native Affairs Minister for some of the shameful days of the 1880s. He had not been keen to invade Parihaka but was overruled and replaced by John Bryce, a man only too willing to lead the attack. The young people of the Rolleston family were clearly happy to be part of this historic experience. I watched whaea Maata Wharehoka embrace them and welcome them in the true spirit of reconciliation.
From the oldest kaumātua to the smallest child swinging the poi, the culture of Parihaka based on the vision of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi was alive and ready to accept the apology, but as one wahine said to me, proactive peaceful resistance and challenge is still a strategy if needed.
My sense of the day is that true healing of history has been started and from now the Crown must demonstrate the good faith which has been promised in the apology. A new Parihaka Settlement Bill will be tabled in the House before the election. Parihaka is an international and national symbol of peace and deserves the wherewithal to flourish and fulfil the vision of the tūpuna. Part of that fulfilment is the education of all our citizens about the consequences of the colonial travesty and the peaceful resistance.
As we drove away from the village, the great sacred mountain and the flags of peace behind us, Jack McDonald, our young candidate from Parihaka told us the best anecdote of the day. When the 160 soldiers and police marched into Parihaka they also brought a cannon to attack the village, but a local dog from the settlement urinated on it and it failed to fire. True or not this story makes me smile. It reminds me of the indomitable spirit and creative strategies we need to challenge power and make peace, and how “sorry” is just the first essential step to making things right at Parihaka and across all of Aotearoa.