Fate of Captain Hamilton statue draws closer after Hamilton council develops new strategy  

By Jessica Tyson

Hamilton City Council has developed a strategy to help make more informed decisions on issues of cultural significance.

This follows its removal from outside the council headquarters of a statue of colonial figure Captain John Hamilton, who fought against Māori in the New Zealand Wars. Hamilton was renamed after him later.

The programme includes nine separate pieces of work including a strategy to support the wellbeing and aspirations of Māori; a review of how streets, open places and facilities are named; and plans to provide historical context and guidance to Māori landmarks. It will also determine the fate of the Hamilton statue, which was removed on June 12.

Captain John Hamilton statue

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate says options for the future of the Captain Hamilton statue, as well as options for Hamilton street names, will come before the committee by March.

“We’ve started a journey talking with all of our stakeholders," she says.

“Waikato-Tainui is definitely engaged in that conversation. We’ve got five māngai Māori. We had a conversation with them and their expectations and local hapū and iwi groups but also the wider community to get people to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

The removal of the statue took place after kaumātua Taitimu Maipi said he intended to remove it during a protest on June 13. It also followed part of the fallout from Black Lives Matters protests around the world, which led in turn to trenchant criticism of memorials and statues from racist or colonialist eras.

Southgate says, “Of course the Black Lives Matter march drew light on racial disharmony all around the world and locally and statues became a little bit of a focus of that because they represent historic hurts and harm that we needed to address. I strongly believe you can’t ignore things - you have to have some brave conversations to go forward or we just keep putting the lid on until it simmers and bubbles up again and that doesn’t advance anyone.”

Southgate says initially the statue was removed in June for public safety reasons.

“But now we’ve got the opportunity to reframe our story and our identity of our city. I know many people are angry at me because of that but let’s embrace it and talk together and get the job done properly.”

Hamilton statue toppled on iwi request / Te Ao - June 12, 2020

The programme

Southgate says the programme is a priority.

"This is an issue that keeps bubbling up. This is about cultural offence, this is about cultural sensitivity, that’s been going on for a long time and we’ve been aware of that.”

The programme also includes the development of a city heritage plan; the development of options to consider how to deal with controversial street names; a review of the council's existing public art process; and seeking clarity about the council's role in arts and culture.

The council's general manager of community, Lance Vervoort, says each piece of work would require robust and wide consultation.

"Elected members have asked staff to come back with details fora comprehensive consultation process that will allow all voices in the city to be heard,” he says.

The first items that are expected to come back to the community committee are recommendations around a public art process and a strategy to support the wellbeing of Māori, due before the end of the year. Remaining work will be completed by mid to late 2021.