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Connecting with our Māori heritage

Published: 28 June 2019

There is a part of Tāmaki Makaurau’s history that’s often unseen, yet deeply important. It is the cultural heritage of the mana whenua of Tāmaki Makaurau – and more chapters of the story are being acknowledged every day.

“There are thousands of places of importance,” says Sheri-Ann Atuahiva, Team Leader Maori Cultural Heritage Programme at Auckland Council.

“Currently we have 75 sites of significance scheduled, 34 in progress and another 400 nominated by mana whenua. We’re working with them to find the best way to give protection and acknowledgement of those.”

It was in 2014, during the unitary plan process, that Auckland Council recognised it didn’t have a record of our Māori sites of significance and many were being degraded or lost.

In response, the Māori Cultural Heritage Programme (MCHP) was developed and today the small team works in close partnership with mana whenua to improve the identification, mapping and protection of Māori cultural heritage in Tāmaki Makaurau.

With the growth and change in Auckland, many sites and the values associated with them are threatened – and many are already lost.

It can be difficult ensuring we don’t lose more, says Sheri-Ann. But new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality could allow people to understand what was there – and for young Māori to interact and reconnect with their heritage.

“It’s like Game of Thrones on steroids, looking at the region,” says Nico Donovan Pereira, Technical Specialist for the programme.

“The stories are immensely rewarding and entertaining, and of such value. If there is a way for mana whenua to share their stories, it just lends itself to such wonderful appreciation of where you are.”

Above: The council’s Māori Cultural Heritage Programme works in close partnership with mana whenua to improve the identification, mapping and protection of Māori cultural heritage in Tāmaki Makaurau. This artwork c1849 shows the view from the vicinity of Karangahape Road, looking north-east across the harbour towards the North Shore and Rangitoto Island. Photo: Auckland Heritage Collections, 4-4549.

Sheri-Ann and Nico explain that one of the skills required is listening to the values of mana whenua and responding appropriately in a way that can be understood within western planning – and this is a challenge.

“People might think of taniwha as ancient reptiles that no longer exist,” says Nico.

“When really they are guiding posts for navigating different aspects of the environment or different aspirations within a place. So listening to mana whenua becomes key translating these different values and understandings – that way people can respond to the knowledge hidden within.”

The practical knowledge in mana whenua cultural heritage has the potential to assist with planning and development in Auckland.

“The mātauranga Māori is full observational knowledge that was critical to how people survived in the past,” says Nico. “So it makes sense that it is also key to how people can thrive and succeed today.”

The Māori Cultural Heritage Programme is an important step for resource management in Auckland – to protect our precious heritage we have to know about it – and the programme is part of Council’s deeper commitment to its Māori Responsiveness Framework.

Programmes like the MCHP preserve New Zealand cultural identity alongside our tikanga and our reo. On a global level, its work in Tāmaki Makaurau can set a benchmark for other cultures around the world to preserve their heritage.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says Nico.

“This team allows us to bring to the forefront new approaches for indigenous identities in any urban centre, whether it’s here or internationally.”

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