Inspiration from the 2017 Tūhonohono i ngā Taonga ā-Iwi Conference

Tūhonohono = Connect

i ngā Taonga = the Treasures

ā-Iwi = of the people, the tribes, the Nation

Conference = Huinga tāngata, huinga taonga, wānanga

In partnership with the Te Rarawa Anga Mua Trust, National Services Te Paerangi held a two day conference in Kaitaia on 23-24 November 2017 which shared local perspectives on care of taonga. More than 70 people participated.

Tūhonohono delegates group shot. Photo by Sally August, Te Papa

The reason why this hui is supported by Te Papa goes back 20 years. When Te Papa opened as the Bi-cultural National Museum, a policy at the heart of this institution had also been developed. The Mana Taonga policy had been coined by the late Ngāti Porou leader, Āpirana Mahuika. Simply put, mana taonga is about empowering (mana) the source communities of objects (taonga).

One way that mana taonga manifests itself in the National Museum of New Zealand is by giving whānau, hapū and iwi access to the taonga created and held by their ancestors. Another way Te Papa empowers people/iwi/hapū/whānau is through the National Services Te Paerangi team. Our job is to support communities in their aspirations for mana taonga. One example is that we hold workshops on marae and we bring in experts like Rangi Te Kanawa, who can assess kākahu (cloaks) and then show the kaitiaki (carer) how to create a safe environment for the taonga.

The Tūhonohono Conference in Kaitaia last year was an opportunity to bring together iwi, hapū, whānau and kaitiaki from Te Hiku o Te Ika (the Far North) to share aspirations, visions, the ups and downs, the stories of their taonga. From my perspective, it was a really clear example of people connecting through their taonga. He huinga taonga, he huinga kōrero, he huinga tāngata.

I’ve picked out a few personal highlights from the conference:

On day one, the first speaker was Hilda Harawira, who shared the journey of the Tino Rangatiratanga Flag. It was a really good place for us to start, the words ‘tino rangatiratanga’ and ‘taonga’ can be found in the Treaty of Waitangi. The story of the flag is the story of the Māori protest movement, it’s Hilda’s story, it’s the story of Ngā Tamatoa, it’s the story of a competition to create a flag that had way less funding than another new flag movement of recent times. It’s about a taonga known as the Tino Rangatiratanga Flag (the Tino Flag for short), but it’s the people that made it, that carry it, that’s what makes it interesting. The Tino Flag is flying here at Te Papa too. What’s a taonga without a story?

Tino Rangatiratanga flag flying alongside the New Zealand flag outside Te Papa. Photo by Paora Tibble, Te Papa.

On day two, BJ Natanahira from the Tai Tokerau Arts Collective challenged us to look outside the pouaka taonga with his kaupapa, ‘Preserving the Future’. ‘What makes an artwork priceless? … Was the Mona Lisa priceless when it was first painted?’

How are we looking after the future of our art, of our mahi toi? It got me thinking about the whakataukī, ‘He toi whakairo, he mana tangata’. A lot of the mahi we do in my team here at Te Papa is focussed on kaitiaki taonga (the care of taonga and connecting the people to that taonga, vis a vis). BJ asked us to think about the actual artists. The struggling artist may make for a great story, but why do we need to wait for someone to die before we recognise their artistic brilliance? What value do we give to those who make taonga?

Peter-Lucas Jones delivered an amazing presentation on Te Hiku Media. The people of Te Hiku o Te Ika (the Tail of the Fish = the Far North) have their own mita (dialect). Peter-Lucas and his team have worked tirelessly over the past few years recording their kaumātua speaking te reo o Ngāti Kahu, o Te Rarawa, o Ngāi Takoto, o Te Aupōuri, o Ngāti Kurī (some of the iwi of the Far North). The team at Te Hiku are even working with an IT company to develop a programme that can teach a computer to speak te reo o Te Hiku o Te Ika. The taonga here is the reo.

Te Hiku Media also did a piece on the conference which was screened on Haukainga: Guarding Our Taonga into the Future.

Ashley Waitai Dye, a mokopuna of Saana Murray (one of the original WAI 262 claimants) and the youngest presenter at the conference, shared insights into working with scientists, researchers, curators from the Auckland War Memorial Museum, NIWA, Landcare Research and Canterbury Museum. It was great to see Ngāti Kurī enabling to their youth to participate, to engage, to learn from expertise and their environment in the Far North. The taonga is the environment and how our people can engage this taonga with the expertise of mātauranga Ngāti Kurī and Pākehā.

This is just a small taste of what I experienced at the Tūhonohono Conference. Working in partnership with Brony Bauer-Hunt’s team at Te Rarawa Anga Mua Trust was a real pleasure. They made it so easy for us. Whina Te Whiu, the curator at Te Ahu was also a great support. I purchased a cool as pīkau, woven by Roma Marae kuia, Pare Nathan.

Tūhonohono i ngā Taonga ā-Iwi ki Kaitaia 2017 was a Te Hiku o Te Ika -centric hui. The iwi of the North shared their taonga kōrero. What I saw were people thinking Mana Taonga in a global sense, but acting locally, right there in Te Hiku o Te Ika.