Alison, Sheryl and Martin spent a few inspiring days in Rotorua in August at the annual ARANZ Conference amongst a full complement of 120 Archivists. For all three of them, the opportunity to meet with old friends and make new ones was as engrossing as the focused theme of Māori Archives and Records. Alison shares some of her insights with us:
“The theme Māori Archives and Records provoked a variety of free-flowing discussions as well as a series of rich thought-provoking presentations that showcased the value of archives and archival practice – from creation to end-user.
This year’s conference was characterised by both the quality of free dialogue between attendees and the excellent presentations. The attendees openly grappled with the challenges inherent to Mātauranga Māori approaches and the representation of knowledge within a Western archival construct. The need for better consultation with mana whenua when describing Māori source material became apparent and creating an environment that embraces tikanga within archival practices – especially the handling of taonga / Māori material culture and records. Even hard questions were asked about remuneration rates for those holding Māori advisory roles and how the skill of uniquely networked and fluent Māori staff were valued in comparison to their colleagues. The conversation shifted to include archivists in a broader sense, as the discussion widened to consider options for re-evaluating archival management competencies to align more with the information management sector.
In her keynote address, New Zealand anthropologist, environmentalist and writer (and New Zealander of the Year in 2013) – Dame Anne Salmond spoke about the push to document traditional Māori ways of life through ethnological research trips such as the 1923 Museum East Coast Ethnological Expedition, undertaken by James McDonald, Sir Āpirana Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), Elsdon Best and J. C. Anderson. She described the initial process of collecting the primary research material – film footage, wax cylinder recordings, diary notes and sketches – and spoke of her experiences taking this material back to source communities almost 100 years later. The relative immediacy of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history could be felt as we realised that McDonald was Dame Anne’s great-grandfather.
Dame Anne’s presentation highlighted the value of the archive to not only collect and care for our documentary heritage but also to reconnect descendants with their own history.
On the second day, speakers discussed a variety of research projects dealing with nineteenth century wars in Aotearoa New Zealand, offering practical examples of their research process and methods of triangulating sources, and demonstrating how archival repositories can be used to explore and uncover significant historical events.
The final evening dinner included a hangi and cultural performance held at the Mitai Māori Village. The outdoor pavilion held at least 250 people including around 60 ARANZ attendees and a group of personnel from the National Fire and Emergency NZ National Training Centre in Rotorua. Our Ngāti Whakaue Mitai Family hosts said it was unusual for the pavilion to be so full of New Zealanders.
The evening started with the usual tourist focus; our witty host John Merito asking where visitors were from and explaining a little of the history of the village, peppering his talk with funny and deliberately cringe-worthy efforts to greet tourists in their own language, while coaching the audience in simple Māori words by asking everyone to repeat phrases like ‘Kia ora’.
Our group included a significant number of fluent Reo speakers and, when we all moved to the concert room for the cultural performance, their ‘āe’ of agreement and support punctuated Te Pō Mitai’s opening pōwhiri address, deepening the experience of engagement. With the formalities completed, the talented Mitai performers sang waiata, performed a deafening haka, and demonstrated taiaha and poi techniques, until it was time for the visitors to offer a waiata. The New Zealanders in the audience then took the opportunity to respond with a stirring rendition of Te Aroha.
This was a conference that felt as if attendees came with their sleeves rolled up ready to work and when we left it was apparent that a lot of ground had been covered.”