Indigenous | Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Call for input on revamped treaty exhibition at Te Papa

This article was first published by RNZ

Now is time to change Te Papa’s Treaty of Waitangi display, the museum’s co-leaders say.

It comes after the museum left a defaced version of the Treaty of Waitangi on display over summer to enable “valuable conversations” about te Tiriti o Waitangi

Twelve people were arrested with eight formally trespassed and released without charge after the incident which saw the wooden display panel being defaced with spray paint and an angle grinder last December.

A 29-year-old man was charged with intentional damage, obstructing police, and breach of bail, and a 53-year-old woman was charged with intentional damage. A 46-year-old man and 52-year old woman were charged with breach of bail.

Te Waka Hourua, which took responsibility, said at the time that the English display was not accurate, and they had repeatedly called for it to be taken down.

Te Papa has replaced it with a new temporary display, which will remain in place while the museum embarks on a full-scale transformation of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Ngā tohu kotahitanga Treaty of Waitangi: Signs of a Nation exhibition.

It is a five-minute-long video projection, which highlights the differences between te Tiriti in te reo Māori and Captain William Hobson’s 1840 English version.

Te Papa co-leader Courtney Johnston hoped the digital display would help visitors deepen their understanding.

“The exhibition has been developed in house by our curators and our writing team, with some support and guidance from mana whenua as well,” she said.

“We really hope that’s going to be a rich resource that people can use to explore further.”

This time it includes a translation by Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu completed in 1988, which is considered much closer to the understanding of Māori who signed te Tiriti.

But one visitor, Peter believed the previous wooden display panel, after it had been defaced with spray paint and an angle grinder in December, said so much more.

“The protest was great, because it brought such attention, and conversation needs to happen,” he said.

“Now, we’ve got this tidy, visual presentation that is a taming, toning down in a way.”

Another visitor, Juanita Hepi, thought it was disrespectful to take it down.

“This is a discretion more than anything,” she said.

“The whitewashing of history in this country means that our people across the country are still marginalised and disempowered.

“To continually take away the histories of this whenua means that we are going to continually be stuck in this perpetual motion of sadness, rage, anger.

“I mean, when does it stop?”

Te Waka Hourua spokesperson Haimana Hirini said he was disappointed there was no consultation with the public ahead of the new display - even if it was only temporary.

“What we agreed to was that we would publicly apologise to the kaimahi of Te Papa, which we did, and if we were to do that, they would be open and transparent, and let the whole nation know about their decisions, what their decisions were, what they were going to do, and they haven’t done any of that,” he said.

“Whilst we’re not surprised, it is disappointing.”

Te Papa said it would consult with te Tiriti experts, iwi and communities for the permanent exhibition.

That was what Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira chairperson Callum Kātene said mattered the most.

“The important thing is that the permanent exhibition needs to have a wide variety of voices,” he said.

“We were quite insistent on that, and Te Papa have agreed, so we’re pleased with that.

“The wide variety of voices include other treaty signatories, academics, historians.

“So, we’re looking forward to seeing how a refreshed treaty exhibition at our national museum will look, to inform contemporary discussion.”

The removed panel will be stored by the museum, and while no decision has been made about its future, Johnston said it was part of the exhibition’s history and the story of te Tiriti o Waitangi.

By Pretoria Gordon of RNZ