Reflecting on the passing of Rangatira Queen Elizabeth II and the national day of commemoration to mark this, it is undeniable that her passing is a moment in history and the end of an era. It is also inevitable there will be a wide range of emotions about this. There are many who admired the Queen and will mourn her passing. There are also those for whom she is the representative of a system and regime of oppression.
I asked the team at MTG Hawke’s Bay to organise a small display of objects relating to the Queen to be up in time for the day of commemoration. What I hadn’t thought about or anticipated was being faced with a vinyl to go on the exterior window with the Queen’s face surrounded by feathers - a design copied from one of the items in the display.
It is one thing to commemorate the Queen’s passing and another to glorify it. So what was the right thing to do? I am fully aware of how many people feel a real sense of loss at her passing. My mother is one of them – she grew up with the Queen and has always liked her. This despite being Scottish and having a, somewhat natural, aversion to the British Empire.
The Queen is someone deemed to represent dignity and duty, someone who has spent her lifetime trying to do the ‘right thing’ by royal standards. She is admired by many around the world for her decorum and restraint.
I am equally aware of the fact that she represents, and is the head of, an Empire that colonised countries around the world, denied indigenous people their rights, often suppressing their language and culture and that has left a legacy of hurt and injustice. My own feelings are somewhat mixed on the matter.
In writing this article, and indeed in choosing to have an image of the Queen on the exterior of the building, I reached out to some iwi advisors to ask their thoughts on having her image up. They too, acknowledged the mixed feelings in the community about the Queen and one of my advisors pointed me towards an episode of Marae from 11 September, which covered some of these mixed views and thoughts. An episode I would recommend if you are interested in hearing a bit more.
What I learnt from watching this was that the Queen acknowledged some of these past wrongs and took some real and some symbolic steps to foster better relations between the Crown and iwi.
Queen Elizabeth II used te reo Māori in public speech - long before anyone in our government did. In 1954 at Waitangi she said in her speech that she hopes New Zealanders will “hold fast to your own language and culture, your arts and crafts, and that you will always cherish the traditions which have been handed down from your forefathers” she then closed with “kia ora koutou”.
In 1990 Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe in his Waitangi speech to the Queen stated that the Crown had failed to honour their obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. He challenged the Crown in front of the Queen and the Prime Minister and that same year the Queen formally apologised to Māori.
In 1995, she personally came to New Zealand to sign the first treaty settlement with Tainui and formally apologized on behalf of the Crown to Tainui iwi. At a time when there was public argument and debate about whether iwi who didn’t sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi had the right to treaty settlement claims, the Queen wrote that when Hobson proclaimed all of New Zealand as a dominion, it gave all iwi the right to claims against the Treaty. It is without a doubt a fraught and complex relationship.
So, I made the decision that it was the right thing for our institution to honour/acknowledge this moment in history. We can grieve the passing of a remarkable person while still challenging the institution she represents. Without a doubt Queen Elizabeth the person was someone who ‘did her duty’, provided leadership, stability and a sense of connection, she held the respect and admiration of leaders around the world - including many iwi.
Published in the Hawke's Bay Today newspaper on 24 September 2022 and written by Laura Vodanovich, director of MTG Hawke’s Bay.
28 September 2022
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