Mana taonga, Mana tangata

Zoë Richardson
Published in
8 min readMar 11, 2020

How Auckland War Memorial Museum manages access and reuse of taonga Māori and Pacific images in its collections using indigenous frameworks

Staff of Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

In the second of a two-part series, Victoria Passau (Collection Manager, Online Cenotaph) and Zoë Richardson (Image Orders and Permissions Manager) tell us how Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum manages access and reuse of taonga Māori and Pacific images in its collections using indigenous frameworks.

Kō Pukekawa te maunga; kō Waitematā te moana; kō Tāmaki Paenga Hira te whare taonga.

In our previous post, we discussed the Open GLAM work that we champion at Auckland Museum. Now we turn our sights to how we honour te ao Māori (the Māori world) and Moana Oceania and manage considered re-use of cultural collections in our care.

The context of our interactions, care and considerations for taonga Māori and Pacific collections held at Auckland Museum is guided by Aotearoa New Zealand’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which was signed 180 years ago between the British Crown and some tangata whenua (indigenous peoples). An aspirational partnership was envisioned, based on mutual respect and collaboration. However, the spirit of partnership was never fully honoured, and Te Tiriti remains contested.

Jordan, W. (ca. 1840) Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by Maori chiefs at the entrance to the Tamaki River, June 1840. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PD-1895–1–1.

Our Bicultural Aspiration

As a cultural institution in Aotearoa we base our mahi (work) on the principles of Te Tiriti with a focus on Article Two, which grants tangata whenua full and exclusive chieftainship over te ao Māori. The Waitangi Tribunal, which was established in 1975 by an Act of Parliament, is a permanent commission of inquiry that makes recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to Crown actions which breach promises made in Te Tiriti. One claim, Wai262, was filed in 1991 by a number of iwi rangatira (senior tribal representatives) after growing concern about uses of native flora and fauna and breaches of Article Two.

The claim encompasses taonga (treasures), creative works, taonga species, and Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). There was and continues to be concern about cultural appropriation, commercialisation, and the dissemination of culture and taonga species (including the flawed intersection with Western intellectual property law), and Mātauranga Māori. This mahi, which is still being undertaken at a whole-of-government level, has implications for everyone working in GLAMs in Aotearoa and for the public at large.

The reason we’re sharing this with the wider GLAM community is because many GLAM institutions hold collections that have been gifted by, sourced from, purchased from, or even stolen from indigenous communities. We have a responsibility to understand the context from which these taonga came, and how they (and their digital surrogates) should be cared for.

We work in a complex bicultural landscape in New Zealand. Navigating it from within a colonial institution is a journey in itself. Auckland Museum is supported by a Taumata-ā-Iwi (Māori Committee) who provides cultural safety to our staff and the taonga in our care. Established in 1996, the Taumata-ā-Iwi was founded upon the principle of mana whenua (customary authority of and over ancestral land, in our case Pukekawa Auckland Domain), and comprises members of the Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Pāoa, and Waikato Tainui iwi (tribes).

In 2012, the Taumata-ā-Iwi gifted Auckland Museum He Korahi Māori: Strategic Pathways, a cultural philosophy based on the spirit of partnership and goodwill envisaged by Te Tiriti o Waitangi that leads our journey toward being a bicultural organisation.

He Korahi Māori, 2016.

Auckland Museum is also proud to have a strong Pacific dimension. We work with our Pacific Advisory Group to build on this and to ensure our Pacific collections and communities are embraced and celebrated. The guiding document Teu le Vā: The Pacific Dimension at Auckland Museum was created in 2016.

This cultural context strongly influences our relationship with the #OpenGLAM world. Copyright, and in particular the concept of the public domain, is not always compatible with cultural principles. We prioritise upholding the mana of our taonga and the people/iwi that whakapapa (have genealogical ties) to them. We therefore take particular care with requests to use images which depict Māori or Pacific people, subjects or content; this protocol aligns with He Korahi Māori and Teu Le Vā. We act as kaipupiri (holders), but whānau (family, both nuclear and extended) are the ultimate kaitiaki of taonga Māori.

Cultural Permissions

Central to the process is an acknowledgement that images and their data carry meaning associated with taonga and the subjects they depict well beyond mere events or records. They offer a sense of a shared past through objects, people, events and places. By centering this we have been able to offer a way in which the mana (authority, prestige) and integrity of images and their communities are afforded appropriate manaaki (care). It is here where mana taonga, kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and manaakitanga (hospitality, generosity) are enacted as integral processes and practices to Māori and to the museum. Images, data, and textual information require the same sensitive approaches as do objects. We tend to believe that not everything is for everyone, hence our adoption of the term #OpenAdjacent in regard to some of our collections.

In 2014, Auckland Museum implemented He aratohu mō te tono i ngā whakaahua Māori, a guide to requesting Māori images.

Our Mātauranga Māori model for decision-making throughout this process is based on four principles:

1. Manaakitanga, through which we aim to increase access to taonga in our care and to awhi (support) our audiences and people.

2. Mana Taonga, which helps uphold the intrinsic care and tikanga (protocols) of taonga and all people surrounding them. While it is possible to strengthen the mana of taonga through reuse and access, we would never compromise tikanga (cultural protocols).

3. With Mana Whenua, we guide our obligations and commitments to communities, whether they be defined or implicit. Our practice is to uphold the mana of communities and is a central driver of this process.

4. Kaitiakitanga focusses on our role to protect all Māori images. Like the taonga they portray, digital images carry meaning and mana beyond mere metadata or files.

Our curators consider requests using the four guiding principles and assess the proposed intent and nature of use. Using the principles framework, curators escalate requests if further advice is needed. This often involves kupu tohutohu (guidance) from iwi or whānau in conjunction with our Māori and Pacific Development team. This is a time-intensive process, and we always acknowledge that we are in a privileged position of having staff who are engaged and committed to the kaupapa (policy).

The outcome of each request is relaid to all parties, with each decision recorded, as precedent is important for future requests. We use this to track usage of taonga and look at the changing landscape of use and reuse over time. Further case studies can be found in the book chapter “Navigating good practice image permissions for Māori collections held at Auckland War Memorial Museum — Tāmaki Paenga Hira”.

In 2016, we implemented a parallel process for the management of requests for use of Pacific collections utilising the cultural values of our Pacific communities. Our Pacific cultural permissions process embodies our commitment to the values of Teu Le Vā and sits alongside our recent Pacific Collections Access Project. The practicalities of the process are the same as that of Taonga Māori but its guiding principles (Manaakitanga; Respect and Integrity; Authenticity, and Kaitiakitanga) derive from Moana Oceania values.

These processes and the values that underpin them are interlinked by strong whakapapa ties to Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the great ocean of Kiwa). Māori and their Pacific tuakana (elder siblings or cousins) are connected through the moana, whakapapa, and tikanga.

From an end-user point of view, images subject to cultural permissions processes are identified on the collection records. Images cannot be downloaded and the public are directed to enquire about reuse or acquiring a digital copy.

View of Sale and Purchase Agreement, O Noke, September 3, 1839 in the image gallery . MS-191–1.
…And how the rights statement appears in the record.

This year the CIA team is looking into how we can make our rights statements easier to understand for our users. We are working on including Traditional Knowledge Labels (TK labels) to more clearly explain why images are included in this category. TK labels will also be added to momo taketake (endemic species) in our natural-sciences collections. We feel it is important to acknowledge that the concept of #OpenGLAM is broad and is not set up to acknowledge the agency, history, and authority that is intrinsically held by taonga.

Context is everything

There are certain risks associated with the mahi we do, including moderation of access to collections, which can result in underrepresentation of Māori and Pacific culture online. Any restrictions we place on our content may cause a lack of alignment with the approaches of other institutions holding similar material. This could cause people to circumvent us for restricting images and use alternatives, held in other organisations who do not treat images in the same way, over ours. However, in an age of digital we have chosen to focus on cultivating and maintaining personal relationships with the kaitiaki and knowledge holders of these taonga. The Museum’s commitment to these communities acknowledges that they hold the ultimate authority and responsibility for these taonga and will always guide our practice irrespective of digital trends.

Our Manuscripts Curator Nina Finigan recently wrote “There is no end state for museums and archives…as those of us who work within them strive for new understandings, new frameworks, new ways to talk about ourselves, our histories and the world around us.” As we’ve said many GLAM institutions hold collections that are sourced, gifted, purchased or even stolen from indigenous communities and we have a responsibility to understand this context. Our ultimate goal is to enact a more nuanced paradigm.

Therefore we feel it is pertinent to note that this is only one way of engaging with indigenous concepts and practices. All of these principles and protocols have been developed through taking the time to build meaningful and genuine relationships with Iwi Māori and the peoples of the Moana Pacific, which helps us to nurture a deeper understanding. And even then we don’t always get it right! While our work, with critical engagement, may inform your own practice, it cannot act as a template for other contexts, continents or relationships. Those practices around cultural permissions can only be informed by your place in the world.

While we fundamentally believe in #OpenGLAM, we are conscious of the unique context in which we operate in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our thinking constantly evolves to ensure that we uphold the mana of taonga and their communities. Museums play a key social role in society in shifting the colonial power dynamic. The Western binary of Open vs. Closed does not fit into our bicultural context. Therefore, #Openadjacent feels more aligned with our mission.

Authors: Zoë Richardson, Image Orders and Permissions Manager; Victoria Passau, Collection Manager Online Cenotaph. Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.