Gisborne District Council has voted to install two controversial replicas of Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour in the region.
One replica will live in Tolaga Bay, and the other will go to the Tairāwhiti Museum, if it agrees to take it.
The council received more than a thousand submissions on the question, and heated opposition from almost all local iwi.
The decision has divided the East Coast community for almost a year, and councillor Sandra Faulkner was happy to be over and done with it.
“I can’t believe that we have managed to spend this much time debating a piece of public art when we have so many other things going in our world right now that deserve our attention,” she said.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, for goodness-sakes, they’re a couple of ships on sticks.”
But the replicas symbolise much more than that for many Māori who still carry the memory and mamae of their ancestors who were killed by Cook and his men.
Four of the five local iwi have prohibited the replicas from being erected anywhere within their rohe.
One outlier iwi – Te Aitanga ā Hauiti – has agreed to take one, saying in a submission its people had a more favourable relationship with Cook.
The unexpected stance made the decision much easier for councillors, who have come under fire in the past for ignoring the wishes of tangata whenua.
“I was personally deeply touched when I discovered that one would be welcomed in Tolaga Bay, we collectively heaved a great sigh of relief if we’re honest… right?” Faulkner said.
Deciding where the other replica should go was much trickier.
Most councillors and mayor Rehette Stoltz agreed it should live at the Tairāwhiti Museum, away from areas of significance to iwi and a place where history can be explained.
“We’re not putting it up as this majestic thing in the middle of our city,” she said.
“What we are still doing is acknowledging that the Endeavour came here and maybe there is an appropriate place for us to tell that story. And that’s why I’ve personally always leaned towards the museum.”
There’s only one problem: the museum does not want it. It made that crystal clear in its own submission to the council earlier in the year.
Councillor Pat Seymour suggested the council should give them no choice.
“We own the museum, and we can bite them … and we own the Star or Canada … there must be a negotiation process that can be arrived at,” she said.
The idea was quickly squashed by Deputy Mayor Josh Wharehinga.
“We don’t own the operations of the museum and we cannot impose ourselves on that trust, just because we fund them. That’s a terrible way to treat a partnership.”
Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown was adamant the second replica should not be erected at all.
“Everywhere around the world, monuments are toppling, and here we are looking to put one up,” Akuhata-Brown said.
“There’s no reason why we need to put another one up, anywhere, frankly, it’s unnecessary.”
Councillor Toni Robinson agreed.
“These boats do not progress this community. The are a replica, of a replica, of a time where mana whenua and tangata whenua views were not taken into account,” he said.
The final decision was for the second replica to be offered to the Tairāhwiti Museum for permanent instalment.
If it does not want it, it will be given-back to the community group who helped to fund raise for it.