NZMS at MA19 – Ko Aotearoa Tēnei – This is New Zealand

The title of this year’s MA2019 Conference MA19 – Ko Aotearoa Tēnei – This is New Zealand was a bold statement of intent directly referencing the eponymous 2011 WAI262 Waitangi Tribunal report, Ko Aotearoa Tēnei (This is New Zealand).  It therefore followed that our three days at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa would include a challenge to review and reflect on the underlying hopes, aspirations and achievements of the Treaty process, against the backdrop of the claim made in the WAI262 Claim Report that Aotearoa New Zealand was entering a new post-Treaty era of partnership.

The Conference Dinner was held at Parliament’s Banquet Hall hosted by Hon Grant Robertson, Associate Minister Arts, Culture and Heritage, where attendees enjoyed a powerful performance from the rangatahi kapa haka group of Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu Trust, convened by Jim Moriarty. – https://www.terakau.org/

This Conference wasn’t designed for the sector to bask in self-congratulations about how far we’d all come, and the opening plenary session set the tone of what was to follow! I later realised that if I had understood more of the pōwhiri, welcome, the previous evening in front of Te Papa’s inspirational Te Hono ki Hawaiki wharenui, meeting house, which was largely conducted in Te Reo, I may have been better prepared for the first plenary the next morning.

This first session titled Ko Aotearoa Tēnei, This is New Zealand, was presented on the forecourt of the wharenui Te Hau ki Tūranga by Jody Whyllie Iwi Researcher for the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust, and Teina Moetara, who presently works at Manutuke School. Rongowhakaata are the 8th “iwi-in-residence” at Te Papa and were welcomed to Te Papa on the 12th June 2017 – 150 years after confiscation of the wharenui and Whyllie took us through this history, from the wharenui’s confiscation and its installation as a cultural exhibit at the Colonial Museum (one of Te Papa’s predecessors), to his current negotiations with the Crown to have it returned. At the same time, Teina demonstrated the torturous passage of time involved, circling the audience – with each step representing a decade – before finally returning to stand with Whyllie.  It was painful to be confronted by the complicity of the cultural sector in such a history and a fitting start to the formal part of the Conference, as presenters and delegates grappled with the implications of what Treaty partnerships might look like in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand’s museological practice.

This first plenary session also introduced the conference theme of repatriation, raising questions about what appropriate consultation between museum institutions and tangata whenua might look like.  At the ServiceIQ NZ Museum Awards the previous evening, Tairāwhiti Museum received two awards for the exhibition TaoNgā Pare-Mata: Mangatū Taonga Returned. This was also a story of complex histories, museum complicity, and models for reconciliation. The YouTube film TaoNgā Pare-Mata: Mangatū Taonga Returned, which was screened, gives further background behind the exhibition and is well worth watching.

 

 

These themes of exclusion and approaches to appropriate consultation were explored in a different way during the plenary Reflections for and by Museums After the March 15 Attacks when the President of the International Muslim Association Tahir Nawaz asked the sector for help to honour the 51 people who had died in Christchurch on that dreadful day, explaining that from his point of view, museums are uniquely placed to help tell these stories in a way that would honour each of their memories.

NZMS-Stand
Digitisation Technician & Project Leader Nigel Roper demonstrating our 3D scanning technology at the NZMS Trade Stand.
The break-out sessions are invaluable as well, and my colleagues and I enjoyed the Curatorial workshops where participants were able to discuss anything and everything museum-related, from career pathways to repatriation challenges. I found it particularly fascinating to hear David Hepplethwaite Director and Story-teller at the Art of Fact, and Puawai Cairns, Head Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa, tag-teaming as they unpacked the process of developing Te Papa’s new conceptual master plan, hopeful they have arrived at a framework that will weave together approaches from Western museological practice with Mātauranga Māori.
I’ve been to many MA conferences and one of the great drawcards is the program committee’s skill at interlacing raw, emotional and confronting presentations with other goings-on in the museum and tourism sector, such as exhibitions and projects (with successes and failures teased out), and education and advancement opportunities in the museum world. Another obvious drawcard is the many opportunities to network. NZMS staff formed a reasonable-sized cohort and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting old friends, making new ones and discussing life in and around the GLAM sector. It was also good to have time during the Wellington Innovation Breakfast on Friday morning to demonstrate 3D-Scanning-as-a-Service, as this new offering has been generating quite a bit of interest.
Reflecting on the overall experience during my flight back to Auckland, I was struck by the way these gatherings are more than the sum of their parts: in the conversations facilitated annually by the MA Conference, people and ideas are connected, re-formed and inspired, opening new and safe spaces for diversity and dialogue. It seems to me that this has the flow-on effect of ensuring the sector is held to account year-on-year, perhaps a by-product of the event, but nonetheless vital for those trusted to work with the holders of cultural memory.