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Debate welcomed as Māori Party calls for inquiry into racist statues - 'not erasing history, making it'

The Māori Party is pushing for an inquiry to identify racist New Zealand monuments and street names.

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It comes as statues of slave traders and once revered colonial figures are toppled across Britain and the US. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as statues of slave traders and once-revered colonial figures are toppled across Britain and the US.

In the US state of Virginia, a statue of explorer and coloniser Christopher Columbus was thrown into the lake as part of a growing global movement challenging former giants of history.

Historian Vincent O’Malley said monuments and memorials are a reflection of "the values and priorities of the societies that constructed them".

"Basically, they tell us which people are heroes in the community and also, they tell us who are the people who are forgotten and ignored," he said.

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Māori Party calls for removal of colonial monuments that symbolise racism

In Aotearoa New Zealand, some believe we have yet to fully come to terms with our own history.

In Taranaki, street names are littered with 19th century military heroes, including Chute Street.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer called Trevor Chute, where the street gets its name, a "very dark part of our history".

"Trevor Chute was actually the man that led and was part of the scorching of the earth. He was a despicable person and is renowned for being that type of terrible individual," she said.

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The dioramas have been a permanent exhibition since the 1980s but will soon be gone for good. Source: 1 NEWS

Now, the party is calling for an inquiry identifying and removing racist monuments, statues and place names from our colonial era.

"We've been asking for a long time to address this issue of outdated monuments that celebrated a period of our history that no longer requires us to be blind to racism," Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.

Taranaki is not the only place where statues have caused controversy, however.

One statue in Auckland celebrates a soldier who fought during the Waikato Invasion but is silent on the atrocity that saw 12 Māori murdered.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that ultimately, concerns around racist place names and statues "actually sits at a much more localised level than it does at central Government level".

But readdressing colonial landmarks could also lead to questions about a statue depicting Te Rauparaha, who can be seen as a rangatira and military genius to some, or a murdering musket raider to others.

"There's a discussion here that needs to happen from iwi to iwi. The difference is, is that he didn't have legislation and law of the land working against him to do that," Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.

The debate is being welcomed, despite the contentious nature of the issue.

"In some ways, this is not erasing history, it's making history," Mr O’Malley said.