Being Māori in a museum world

By Shelley Arlidge, Russell Museum

I attended my first Kāhui Kaitiaki hui at Waitangi’s Te Tii Marae in late October with museum colleagues from Kororāreka – Russell. The kaupapa for the hui was a focus on Te Tiriti in the museum and gallery sector.

Kāhui Kaitiaki in front of wharenui, courtesy of Migoto Eria 1

Kāhui Kaitiaki in front of wharenui. Image courtesy of Migoto Eria.

From the street outside our place of work, Russell Museum, you can see the Maiki Hill flagstaff, Whakakotahitanga, the successor to the four felled in 1845 when Hone Heke, Kawiti and their allies gave notice to the British Crown that they were no longer willing to quietly accept what they perceived as the first breaches of this now historic partnership agreement – the agreement that Moana Jackson describes as our nation’s first immigration law. We crossed the waters of Ipipiri to find out how the museum and gallery sector was doing with this legacy. Would it be a celebration or a tangi?

The first waiata in the whare firmly announced that this gathering was a celebration. Each presenter confirmed it – not that realities and difficulties were ignored. Te Reo Māori was spoken as often as English. We heard about a challenge to conventional museum systems of classification from Hikitia Harawira; Rameka Alexander Tu’inukuafe took us inside his Centre for Hapū Taonga Revitialisation on the shores of Lake Omapere – it’s a museum but not as we know it; Linnae Pohatu spoke on the price of citizenship and the obstacles, obligations and responsibilities associated with the Online Cenotaph project. She had a priceless nugget of advice for anyone contemplating a major project, “Find the most fearless people among you and just do it”. Lawrence Wharerau aroused a serious case of envy by describing his mahi within Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, an organisation that has, from its outset, operated within a bicultural governance structure. Other presenters were equally inspiring.

Speakers in the whare, courtesy of Rhonda Paku 1

Speakers in the whare. Image courtesy of Rhonda Paku.

A highlight of the hui was Moana Jackson’s presentation. He walked us through the changing treaty story, through its multiple rebrandings by successive governments, elaborating on different understandings of parallel stories encapsulated in the phrase, “But that’s what I saw”. At the end he asked, “What are the implications for our mahi?” and then he answered it by drawing the four threads of his stories together.

Moana Jackson,, courtesy of Migoto Eria 1

Moana Jackson. Image courtesy of Migoto Eria.

  • Whatever we do in our museums’ Te Tiriti relationship, our first obligation to the taonga we came for is to be Māori first rather than a museum worker who happens to be Māori.
  • There is always a challenge to learn about the broader context of the job in which we work – look out into the world. The TPPA is a threat. Use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These international documents only get mandatory power if people use them.
  • Be aware that one day museum curating may change in a way that raises challenges for us as Māori. Te Tiriti asks us as its mokopuna to be ready for change when it comes. Adaptation is not the same as acquiescence. Adapt to survive in the future. Adapt to flourish.
  • Uniqueness – treasure it, our quirks as well as our dreams. Never be pessimistic.

Moana passed on this translation of a Navajo proverb, “In the struggle for your people you may get depressed, but you should never succumb to pessimism because your ancestors expect more”.

We left the hui confident that the future for Māori in our museums and galleries is in safe and competent hands.

Shelley Arlidge

Across the road from Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, courtesy of Rhonda Paku 1

Across the road from Te Tii Marae, Waitangi. Image courtesy of Rhonda Paku.