Connecting Raiātea with others on similar hikoi at the 2019 ATALM Conference

By Whina Te Whiu, Motuti Marae Archivist and Raiātea project member

It’s been a seven year journey for Ngāti Tamatea, with aspirations to build a whare taonga in our small community of Motuti, situated on the northern shores of the Hokianga Harbour, in the Far North.

The whare taonga is named Raiātea: a resource centre, museum and archives holding over 10,000 artefacts tribally controlled. I acknowledge the huge contribution of the late Pa Henare Tate as a hapū member and hapῡ leader, priest, author, genealogist, theologian, his influence spanned beyond the boundaries of his own hapū and iwi. [i]

It is Pa Henare Tate’s vision and his hope to leave a lasting legacy for his people that underpins Raiātea. It will be one of the first fit for purpose built whare taonga solely managed by a collective of hapū under the banner of Ngāti Tamatea.

Raiātea will allow Ngāti Tamatea to manage our collections to express, discover, articulate and fulfil kaitiakitanga of the physical, intellectual and spiritual care of taonga. Raiātea is a hapū space with cultural practices taking precedence over museum practices.

Inevitably, Raiātea will be a flagship model and possibly an opportunity for other hapῡ to learn from. It’s been a daunting task of building Raiātea from the ground up especially in creating an operating model that will be a uniquely tribal proposition in the gallery, library, archive and museum sectors within Aotearoa. I’ve been mandated by the building project team, Ngā Kaihoe and marae to create an operational model which is sustainable for the hapū.

In 1999 and 2007, I attended the International Indigenous Librarians Forum and glimpsed the initiatives coming out of the US. At the time some of the American Indian tribes were already operating tribal museums and archives set on reservation lands. After twenty years of operating and managing these tribal institutions, I knew Raiātea would benefit from their experiences.

Whina with UCLA American Indian Studies Center Alumni at the ATALM Conference, 2019. (From left: Dr Shannon Speed, Joy Holland, Dr Loriene Roy (University of Texas), Whina Te Whiu, Dr Mishuana Goeman). Photo courtesy of Wendy Teeter

In October, I was fortunate enough to acquire financial support from National Services Te Paerangi, Te Papa and the Lottery Minister’s Discretionary Fund to attend the International Indigenous Conference of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums at Temecula, Los Angeles in the US. 

The theme of the conference was Cultural Survival in the 21st Century, hosted by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM).

ATALM is non-profit American organization that: maintains a network of support for indigenous programs, provides culturally relevant programming and services, encourages collaboration among tribal and non-tribal cultural institutions, and articulates contemporary issues related to developing and sustaining the cultural sovereignty of Native Nations.[ii]

With a thousand attendees at the conference I felt an overwhelming spirit of whanaungatanga. The overall theme of cultural survival was reflected in the 100+ workshops and presentations during the two day conference.

Hawaiian Librarians representing at the conference, 2019. Photographer Whina Te Whiu

Though I had a clear sense of what topics I needed to cover for Raiātea, including sustainable operations and managing philanthropic relationships, I also looked at programming, planning and design for Native museums, exhibitions and language and cultural revitalisation schemes, and the role of Native museums, archives, resource and cultural centres in education.

One presentation where I struck real gold was “Developing a new heritage centre as part of strategic planning for cultural tourism”. The Saint Regis Mohawk tribe spent nine years in planning and development of their strategy, and focussed on building basic infrastructure on their lands, a large island split in two by the American and Canadian border in the north.

Gail McDonald, Akwesasne Project Developer. Photographer Whina Te Whiu

With a well thought out strategy, Gail McDonald, Akwesasne Heritage Complex Project Developer and Anne Ketz, CEO and Services Director, spoke of the many different challenges amongst their people which resonated with our own Raiātea journey. They were clear about their vision for cultural tourism: “Interpretation and cultural tourism serves the community above all else. A foundation for members to learn and understand their own history and culture.[iii]”

For me, tourism has really felt like an uncomfortable space to approach when looking at sustainable options for Raiātea. This seemingly invisible conflict is between the realities of economics and the aspirations of Ngāti Tamatea to preserve taonga tuku iho. Where does the hapū put our energies and time? Is it on ourselves or our visitors? However, the big takeaway for me is how connecting cultural assets is a key to sustaining authentic programs that contribute to the economic and cultural revitalisation success of the community. Ka mau te wehi, awesome!

Pechanga exhibition at conference, 2019. Photographer Whina Te Whiu

Attending an international conference has given me a lot of space to breathe, reflect and contrast Raiātea’s journey with others on similar hikoi. I returned home with real answers, and options I can confidently present to my own people.

Sometimes, we have to remember our ancestors who on their waka navigated the many oceans using the stars and tides to discover lands, where they could build a new way of life. It requires courage and a willingness to take risks knowingly, accepting consequences, and adapting to the changes.

In many ways Raiātea has been that new land, Ngāti Tamatea on this waka of discovery, and hey we are doing ok.

Mā te mōhio ka mātau, Mā te mātau ka mārama,
Mā te marama ka whai-ō, mō te ara o te ora

By being informed one gains knowledge, By having knowledge one is enlightened
By being enlightened one is enriched, with provisions for the journey of life

Pa Henare Tate (2015)


[i] Te Whiu. Whina. A Collection Management Strategy for Taonga and Archives for Raiātea: An Indigenous hapu based Whare Taonga. Archifacts, August 2018.

[ii] Retrieved from ATALM website, October 2019.

[iii] McDonald, Gail. Conference speaker: Developing a new heritage center as part of strategic planning for cultural tourism. ATALM, Temecula, L.A, U.S.A 2019.

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