who can tell?

I remember a friend telling me he wanted to get the story of his nanny but she kept going ‘around the houses’ and never putting things in chronological order. I remember an elderly man telling me in frustration that I read too many books and I should listen as I tried to understand the Ringatu philosophy (he meant I needed to shut up and listen to him properly).

Photo of kaitiaki Maori circa 1990. Alan Marchant.

When I visit Te Papa, once I have traversed (and it does feel like a grand traverse) the spaces and managed to avoid the small people who rush about willy nilly and unchecked (I suppose I should value the enthusiasm) I often have fleeting moments of memory.

And so to visit the Tainui exhibition was especially poignant for me.

The visit and a subsequent discussion made me think of people: the kaitiaki with whom I shared meetings, talks and at times a whiskey or two, Galvin MacNamara (aka James Mack), Mina McKenzie , Marj Rau-Kupa and many more whose vision was to create spaces in museums for Maori to tell their own stories.

I remembered James (as he was then) remaking of the Maori hall in the old Buckle Street building, hui that were at times fraught, sessions of heated debate, conferences and workshops. The Treaty workshops held before and during 1990, and the support and love of many people. And the last trip I made with museum people to Pungarehu to support the return of some taonga that had been ‘misplaced’ by museums.

We thought that we were creating something new and good. That changes were occurring.

So what of now?

It’s wonderful to see the return of Mataatua to Ngati Awa. There is a new museum in New Plymouth. More Maori work in museums than ever before. Tikanga is acknowledged.

Some acquaintances said that things are more difficult now because it’s harder to know where the honesty lies. That perhaps all we had achieved was that Pakeha were better at hiding racism. I certainly have the sense that we are better at appropriating.

Sometimes I think that the stories have changed and evolved. That new tikanga is replacing the tuturu Maori tikanga. But maybe that’s what happens when cultures evolve?

Mainstream education appears to be no better for Maori than before. Which is why wananga are so important and have been so successful.

Maybe it’s time for the revival of the idea of iwi museums. Maybe it’s too hard to rid museums of the shackles of their colonial inception?

Like the hippy dream of a better world, maybe the vision and hopes of kaitiaki and those who supported them, has been altered a little in the practice. Maybe that’s just how it is?

Maybe it’s time for a new dream? Maybe I’m getting old and cynical? Maybe I’m still a hippy at heart?

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