Story: Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga

Page 4. Increasing Māori involvement in museums, 1987 to 2000

All images & media in this story

New directions after Te Māori

The years immediately following the Te Māori exhibition saw an increase in Māori involvement in the museum sector. In 1988 the National Museum established a Wellington-based trainee scheme for Māori seeking museum careers. The course was run by weaver Erenora Puketapu Hetet and carver Rangi Hetet, along with Bill Cooper of the National Museum. Most of the young Māori on the scheme went on to work in museums.

The return of Pūkākī

The taonga Pūkākī, carved around 1836, is one of the most important tūpuna (ancestors) of Ngāti Whakaue and other Te Arawa iwi. Ngāti Whakaue gave Pūkākī to the Crown in 1877, sealing an agreement that would supposedly protect tribal lands. Pūkākī became internationally famous as a centrepiece of the Te Māori exhibition. The changing relationship between Māori and museums was reflected in the 1997 agreement by which Auckland Museum, guided by its Māori advisory committee, returned Pūkākī to Ngāti Whakaue.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Māori museum and gallery appointments included:

  • Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Waikato Museum’s first Māori curator, in 1987
  • Te Warena Taua, assistant ethnologist at Auckland Museum, in 1989
  • Paora Tapsell, curator at the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, in 1990
  • Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, first curator Māori of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery, in 1991.

Māori-led exhibitions

In the 1990s a host of Māori-led exhibitions began to shape New Zealand’s changing museum sector, bringing taonga and Māori art to centre stage. Some examples were:

  • Rotorua Museum’s 1991 Te Arawa exhibition – Te Korimako Tangi Ata / the New Dawn
  • Robert McDougall Art Gallery promoted a new generation of Māori artists, including Shane Cotton, Shona Rapira Davies and Michael Parekowhai
  • Waikato Museum, under Māori curator Barbara Moke, held the Te Ara o Tainui exhibition in 1998.

Māori organisation within museums

Māori began organising themselves within the museum sector. Hirini (Sidney) Mead and Te Aue Davis established the Te Māori Manaaki Taonga Trust to assist museum-related scholarship. Mina McKenzie and Bill Cooper organised Māori employees as a professional body named Kaitiaki Māori (Māori Museum Workers), which, in 1992, joined the newly constituted Museums Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (MAANZ).

These moves helped establish a national code of ethics, encouraging the involvement of local elders and better interpretation of taonga in museums. By the mid-1990s kaumātua advisory committees were created throughout the sector. Māori management positions were established, with Cliff Whiting appointed the first kaihautū (director Māori) at Te Papa. Mere Whaanga became manager – iwi values at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Te marae ki Te Papa

As part of its commitment to a bicultural approach, Te Papa included an operational marae, designed by Cliff Whiting. The marae was intended as a meeting place where people of all cultures could feel at home. The wharenui (meeting house) featured brightly coloured carvings of Māori and Pākehā ancestors represented in a modernist rather than traditional style.

Changes at Auckland Museum

The Auckland War Memorial Museum Amendment Act 1996 was a historic turning point for Māori. The act directly acknowledged the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori values associated with museum custodianship of taonga. It formally established a Māori Advisory Committee (Taumata-ā-Iwi) to the Auckland Museum Trust Board. Taumata-ā-Iwi comprised representatives of the local tribes Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei, Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Pāoa. In 1997 the Taumata-ā-Iwi guided the historic return of Pūkākī (the carved ancestor featured on New Zealand’s 20-cent coin) to his descendants, Ngāti Whakaue of Te Arawa.

Kaitiaki Māori and Museums Aotearoa

The Museums Association of Aotearoa New Zealand attempted in the late 1990s to integrate Māori values into its wider membership body. Many museum directors remained unconvinced Māori could add value to their institutions. In the mid-1990s these directors formed their own break-away group, the Museum Directors’ Federation. In 1999 Museums Aotearoa was formed, incorporating both the Museums’ Association Aotearoa New Zealand and the Museum Directors’ Federation, and Kaitiaki Māori (Māori Museum Workers) officially became part of Museums Aotearoa.

How to cite this page:

Paora Tapsell, 'Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga - Increasing Māori involvement in museums, 1987 to 2000', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-and-museums-nga-whare-taonga/page-4 (accessed 22 October 2019)

Story by Paora Tapsell, published 22 Oct 2014