Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

17

Māori and museums: the politics of indigenous recognition

David Butts

Introduction

This chapter explores the evolving relationships between museums and Māori in Aotearoa, New Zealand, with particular emphasis on the period 1980-2001. The Te Māori exhibition (1984-7) is identified as a turning point in Māori relationships with museums. Since that time most museums have worked constructively to build better relationships with Māori people, not only because elements of Māori heritage form a large part of museum collections, but also because museum credibility depends to a large extent on those collections. These evolving relationships are documented with reference to recent developments in three institutions, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Tairawhiti Museum, and Whanganui Regional Museum, especially as they affect museum governance. The paper considers the significance of these evolving models of museum governance, organisational structures and professional practice for the museum sector and the extent to which they may contribute to issues of social change and social equity in the wider society.

From the 1860s until the early 1980s, New Zealand museums collected and interpreted Māori cultural treasures without forming close relationships with the iwi (tribes) who had originally owned the collections. While some museum directors and staff, particularly museum anthropologists, had begun to initiate changes from the 1960s, it was not until after the Te Māori exhibition travelled to the United States and toured New Zealand that the initiatives gained momentum.

During the 1980s the concept of biculturalism entered the discourse of museum politics in New Zealand:

By focusing on power, biculturalism is concerned with creating a partnered society in which two founding peoples can coexist legitimately without undermining the interconnectedness that binds the system. Biculturalism envisions Aotearoa [New Zealand] society as a partnership between two founding peoples, neither of whom are superior, but are autonomous over

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