The British government Wednesday expressed "regret" that British explorers killed some of the first indigenous Maori they met 250 years ago, but stopped short of issuing a full apology.
British High Commissioner Laura Clarke met with Maori tribal leaders in the town of Gisborne as New Zealand marked the anniversary of Captain James Cook and the crew of his ship Endeavour arriving in 1769. Clarke's words held historic significance but fell short of the full apology that some had sought from the British royal family.
Soon after Cook and his crew arrived, the sailors feared they were under attack after encountering Maori armed with weapons. But many scholars now believe Maori were likely only issuing a ceremonial challenge. The sailors shot and killed an important leader, Te Maro, and over the following days killed eight more Maori before a Tahitian priest managed to mediate between the sides.
The high commission was careful to point out that yesterday's expression of regret came from the British government and not from the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner and former Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon said Clarke's words were another part of the reconciliation and relationship-building process. However, he said that as Gisborne mayor he had invited the British royal family to come to Wednesday's event but received no response. He said he'd like to have descendants of Queen Victoria meet with descendants of the Maori who were killed and offer them a full apology.