In 1860 my great, great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, James Fitzgibbons embarked from Cork in Ireland with the 14th (Buckhinghamshire) Regiment of Foot and arrived in Auckland to fight in the New Zealand Wars. He was by every definition a colonist even though as an Irishman he himself came from a colonised land. Sometimes I wonder if he ever reflected on that.
He died in 1866 in his early thirties at the Albert Barracks in Auckland, leaving a 31 year-old spouse and a 5 year-old son. There is no record of his burial, but I suspect his was one of the graves disinterred from the Symonds Street cemetery in the 1960s for the Auckland Southern Motorway.
I and my whole family very much are here due to a legacy of colonisation. Most immigrant stories are framed as seeking a better life, or looking for opportunities. To put it another way it was frankly for exploitation and commercial extraction. You don’t just bumble into forging the largest empire in the history of the planet out of the goodness of your heart. You do it with a commercial purpose.
And my great, great grandfather came here to engage in an act of subjugation to further those exploitative ends for his compatriots. I don’t know if he thought of it in those terms. Maybe he wanted a way out of Ireland, which had only just come out of famine 8 years before. Or maybe he just had a sense of adventure.
I think a major step in decolonisation is for those of us who are Tangata Tiriti is to understand how and why we got here. To look unflinchingly at history in the face and frankly acknowledge why we are here.
And the wonderful thing is the Crown has the Treaty to guide our relationships with one another.
Decolonisation is not a call for us to pack up our shit and leave. It’s about putting that exploitative relationship in check. The government’s proposed Treaty Principles Bill would turn the clock back on the work of countless iwi and government officials along with legal, historical and sociological experts have put into framing that relationship.
We all know it has been fraught at times. But I think we’re a better country for all that work. We can’t turn our backs on each other now.