Story: Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga

Page 5. The challenges of the new century, 1997 onwards

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The O’Regan Report, 1997

In 1997 a report by Gerard O’Regan on Māori involvement in museums was released. It highlighted the continuing challenges for Māori, including their struggle to enter middle and senior curatorial or management positions. The ‘Te Māori’ generation of qualified, museum-focused scholars was emerging from tertiary institutions. They still struggled, however, to gain employment recognising and using their cross-cultural skills.

Te Papa – the Māori team and Mana Whenua

Until 2000 Te Papa remained the only museum openly seeking to employ trained Māori museum professionals. Its Māori team was led by the kaihautū or director Māori. The bicultural Māori–Pākehā expression of the Treaty of Waitangi applied across Te Papa, resulting in two teams operating under two directors.

A major output of the Māori team was the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, which aimed to repatriate Māori and Moriori human remains from overseas institutions, with the ultimate goal of returning them to their communities of origin.

The Māori team also established the Mana Whenua gallery, where different iwi were invited to be exhibition hosts on a rotating basis. Elders were based at Te Papa throughout each exhibition, providing the staff and visitors an opportunity to learn about particular tribal knowledge.

Developments at the Auckland Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum also had a Māori specialist team, set up after sustained pressure from tribal leaders. This followed protests over the lack of consultation during the museum’s Māori gallery refurbishment in 1999. The tumuaki – director Māori executive leader position was established in 2000, followed by the setting up of a 15-strong Māori Values Team.

Māori at regional museums

Regional museums have also responded as best they can to Māori initiatives, given the constraints of local government funding. Porirua’s Pataka museum and art gallery was established in the 1990s under the directorship of Māori artist Darcy Nicholas. Puke Ariki in New Plymouth created the first governance board that was half Māori and half Pākehā. In 2006 the Tairāwhiti Museum in Gisborne appointed Māori historian Monty Soutar as its director, supported by a local Māori-dominated trust board.

Māori create their own institutions

Te Puia is the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Rotorua’s thermal resort. At Te Puia, galleries with displays and interactives are combined with a school of carving and weaving. It is pan-tribal, Māori owned and operated, and staffed entirely by Māori. Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre in Timaru is owned and operated by the Ngāi Tahu iwi. It uses exhibits and interactives to teach about rock art and also conducts tours to rock art sites.

As Treaty of Waitangi settlements progressed, some iwi began to consider setting up their own tribal repositories for taonga currently held by museums. Local iwi (mana whenua) continued to build relationships with museums. One such new joint museum initiative was Kaitāia’s Te Ahu – a community centre with archival repository – which involved representatives from Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāi Takoto and Ngāti Kurī. Another was Ngāi Tahu involvement with the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin.

Restructuring after 2008

Since 2008 a shift to a more conservative political climate led to a downturn of Māori dedicated positions across the museum sector. There was less willingness to place Māori in positions of influence beyond dealing with taonga or iwi relations. In the early 2010s Te Papa remained unwilling to formally accommodate its treaty partners at the governance table. Auckland Museum’s restructuring in 2008 included the dismantling of its Māori Values Team.

A new generation of tertiary-qualified Māori pushed their way into museum roles despite the downturn. The Massey University Museum Studies programme was established in the 1980s, followed by programmes at the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Otago. New Māori-curated exhibitions toured the world, fostering awareness of the communities in which these taonga originated.

How to cite this page:

Paora Tapsell, 'Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga - The challenges of the new century, 1997 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Paora Tapsell, published 22 Oct 2014