Iwi taonga database project underway at National Services Te Paerangi

By Heather Beggs

Hinaki (eel trap)

For over a decade National Services Te Paerangi has been supporting iwi in the development of taonga databases. Over 20 projects have been completed with NSTP funding and we want to hear what’s working, where there are challenges, and what NSTP can do to support progress in this area in the future.

We’ve heard many requests from iwi to bring people together to talk about the challenges and barriers they face in developing, implementing and maintaining taonga databases. We last had a hui in 2006 around the National Digital Forum and we’re convening a group again at this year’s conference in October.

Last month I sifted through around 30 project files to research and identify common issues faced by iwi in the projects funded by NSTP. Interesting trends emerged, from the original objectives to final outcomes. Databases were created for many reasons: reconnecting iwi, hapu and whanau to taonga, making taonga easily accessible to iwi members and others, finding and repatriating taonga, planning for a cultural centre, assisting with Treaty claims, and other capacity building efforts.

With these important goals, projects faced similar challenges, such as intellectual property issues, protection and security of cultural heritage, technical challenges with software, scarcity of resources and time, and ethical issues of ownership. In almost all cases, the process of researching, developing, and implementing a database brought many rewards that were not anticipated in the beginning of the project. Many iwi were quite successful in building new relationships and strengthening existing relationships with museums, private collectors and whanau. The benefit was mutual, as museums fully recognized the importance of consulting with iwi regarding taonga in their care. Projects also had a tangible impact on capacity building. Many iwi produced procedures, guidelines, and policies around access to taonga, further developed their IT plans, and contributed valuable information to cultural centre planning and Treaty claims.

As with many projects, the most valuable lessons are learned through the journey. Unexpected successes usually follow dedication and persistence! To me, the resounding long-term benefits of establishing and reviving networks among iwi, hapu, whanau and external partners, such as museums and NSTP, are major successes of these projects as a whole. These new and stronger networks are likely connected to the emerging interest in digital repatriation of taonga.

I’m looking forward to hearing project updates, learning about current issues, and how we might find opportunities for collaboration to meet some of the challenges.

Calls for expressions of interest in participation

This hui will be of interest to those who are involved in iwi taonga/ digital database development with a view to sharing information and raising discussion around key issues, challenges and benefits of technology and collaborative initiatives to support iwi to reconnect with their taonga, and cultural heritage.

Sunday 17 October

Wellington, venue tbc



Image: Hinaki (eel trap), ca 1900, Maker unknown, Wanganui. Purchased 1906. Te Papa

Heather BeggsHeather Beggs is a volunteer with NSTP this winter, on a work-holiday sabbatical in New Zealand. From 2003-2009 she directed the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska, which is noted for its strong focus on community engagement and close collaborations with regional Alaska Native communities.