By: Gurbir Singh
The ‘Black Lives Matter‘(BLM) movement that has resulted in statues of slave leaders and colonial leaders become a controversial issue across the world, has reached our backyard now. Hamilton City Council has decided to remove the bronze statue of Captain John Hamilton from Civic Square after a formal request from Waikato-Tainui, and after it had become clear the statue was likely to be vandalised.
The Waikato-Tainui request comes after a growing international drive to remove statues which are seen to represent cultural disharmony and oppression. Māori have always hated the colonial statues and wanted these to be taken down, and it is not a new issue.
Earlier, a Huntly man, kaumātua Taitimu Maipi had threatened to remove this ‘colonial’ statue during a protest march on Saturday.
The city was named after Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who was a naval commander who led a detachment of the 43rd regiment at the Battle of Gate Pā in Tauranga during the New Zealand Wars.
The life-size bronze statue of Captain John Faneand and Charles Hamilton was originally gifted by the Gallagher Group in 2013 and was created by Margriet Windhausen who is well known for another bronze sculpture, The Farming Family in Hamilton.
“We know this statue is contentious for a number of our community members,” says Chief Executive Richard Briggs.
“We also have public safety concerns. The statue is firmly embedded into Civic Square and sits on top of the Garden Place underground carpark. If the statue were to be forcefully removed from its current position, as has been indicated, it could severely undermine the integrity of the building below it. We can’t allow for that to happen so the removal of the statue will be coordinated in a professional and responsible manner.”
Briggs says the removal of the statue will be the start of wider discussions with key city stakeholders. It was not about erasing history but instead understanding the wider context behind it.
Mayor Paula Southgate agrees now is the right time to discuss the future of the Hamilton statue.
“I know many people – in fact a growing number of people – find the statue personally and culturally offensive. We can’t ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we. At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don’t think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps.”
The University of Waikato’s Associate Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies, Tom Roa, however, was against removal of colonial statues. He reportedly told The Project earlier this week “Our future should be more informed of their past so that it is our history,” and instead of tearing them down, it was important to have a conversation about them.
This morning on the AM show, National MP Judith Collins commented that activists could actually start with Richard Seddon’s statue – an icon of our Parliament. “I would also say actually you know, look, Richard Seddon’s statue, on that basis, should go. His racism against Chinese was just unbelievable.”
Across New Zealand, there are hundreds of statues depicting colonial history, along with streets and places. While “monuments are one way to recognise our past”, but the lack of monuments of prominent Māori imbalances the situation.
This removal of Hamilton’s statue may as well mark the beginning of removal of other similarly ‘oppressive’ names and statues in New Zealand.
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