I te pūtake: Building Māori archiving & cultural heritage networks for Aotearoa

By Claire Hall, Te Reo o Taranaki Charitable Trust

Late last year, two national gatherings sparked talk of the need for an independent network to connect iwi, hapū, whānau and hapori caring for taonga tuku iho: whare pūranga (archives), whare taonga (tribal museums), whare waka, cultural centres – any kind of safe keeping place for tangible or intangible tukuihotanga.

These uiui were the Mukurtu indigenous digital archiving wānanga in Taranaki in October, and the Tūhonohono i ngā Taonga a Iwi: Preserving Iwi Cultural Heritage hui in Mataatua rohe a few weeks later.  The former was a two-day introductory and digital archive site-building session with the CoDA team for iwi and hapū; the latter a national gathering showcasing iwi and hapū cultural heritage projects.

I organised the former and presented at the latter – fresh from a stint in Washington for Mukurtu training, Association of Tribal Archives Libraries and Museums annual conference, and digitisation training at the Library of Congress. The wānanga bar was set high.

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Mukurtu indigenous digital archiving wānanga. Image: Craig Ashworth

The two Aotearoa hui were a welcome homecoming. They marked a coming of age for independent iwi cultural heritage practice in Aotearoa, showcasing the skills, dreams – and remarkable gains – being made by change agents committed to iwi-led cultural heritage development in this country.

At Tūhonohono I was struck by the number of international partnerships, scholarships and internships influencing local practice. Many practitioners – by necessity – have looked overseas for indigenous-led ways of working. And the fruits of these relationships have ripened: there’s now enormous potential for this networking to happen closer to home.

Mukurtu wānanga feedback reflected this:

“Was great to hear iwi groups reviewing their approach, could see this having benefits for many more iwi.”

“….could the Crown and crown entities develop Treaty Settlement work programmes that better support iwi to manage taonga? Iwi need to be consulted, the ‘build it and they will come’ approach is often unsuccessful.”

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Mukurtu indigenous digital archiving wānanga. Image: Craig Ashworth

The Tūhonono forum highlighted a number of cornerstone iwi and hapū projects reaching fruition in recent years.

These included: Maringi Baker talking about Ngāi Tuhoe’s Te Wharepuri cultural centre, Monty Soutar and Walton Walker on Tairawhiti’s 28 Māori Battalion C Company memorial house, Morrie Love on the establishment of Te Raukura, Wellington’s whare waka, and Moira Brown on the repatriation of Te Hau ki Turanga.

All remarkable achievements in and of themselves, and inspiring models for others. I was struck by how willing all those presenting were to honestly share the highs and lows of their experiences, one of the benefits of a safe and appropriate space for this kind of kōrero. A space in which participants don’t feel as if they are having their efforts measured against mainstream standards; a space that validates indigenous modes of practice as a demonstration of mana motuhake.

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Mukurtu indigenous digital archiving wānanga. Image: Craig Ashworth

Sharing our achievements like this is critical in a post-settlement environment. More iwi and hapū than ever before are resuming kaitiakitanga of their mātauranga and tukuihotanga, bringing their taonga home both digitally and physically.

Many are also intent on independently digitising and managing their own collections, according to their own tikanga. That’s radically different from institutional preservation and collection management principles; a departure also from the practice of handing the mantle of responsibility for kaitiakitanga to classically-trained experts.

And therein lies the future potential for the networking that began last year. An ongoing hononga will enable relationships and trust to deepen, binding those choosing an aronga, tikanga and kaupapa Māori approach to this mahi. Professional training will never be a prerequisite to participation.

Wānanga participants put up some suggestions as to where to from here:

“Ongoing training – perhaps a session next year (2016) to embed CMS knowledge. Tuhonohono i ngā Taonga a iwi conference could be the following year (2017).”

Ka rawe! More please!”

“Perhaps keeping the cohort together in some form and bringing back together if possible to see how it is all going with each group…I think a Maori Archives Network is a great idea and tautoko it. Wondered too if the idea could be floated at Te Ropu Whakahau hui-a-tau in Parihaka?”

I look forward to continuing this kōrero in Taranaki in April, i te pūtake.


Claire Hall works for Te Reo o Taranaki Charitable Trust.

Since 2009, she has managed the Trust’s New Plymouth-based archive, Te Pūtē Routriata o Taranaki. She delivers archiving and oral history training courses for hapū, whānau and hapori, and is collaborating with California’s Centre of Digital Archaeology to develop a Mukurtu-based digital archiving platform for iwi, hapū and hapori.