Te Rau o Te Huia: Using AI to connect rangatahi with heritage

Dan Te Whenua Walker is using AI to preserve the history of his home of Taranaki.

“Tech is good for Māori [and] Māori is good for tech.”

Those are the words of Dan Te Whenua Walker, who is using AI to open the doorway to the Māori world.

The Ngāti Ruanui descendant, who is the Partner Development Manager for Microsoft ANZ, says Māori can bring a more holistic view to the industry.

“We bring our own values, we bring our own worldview, we bring our own kōrero.”

Walker has developed a custom AI to preserve Māori knowledge about his home of Taranaki.

Named Te Rau o Te Huia in honor of his late grandmother, the AI is designed to help rangatahi Māori learn the history of their home in a way that captures the cheeky spirit and warmth of his nana.

“She was and is an amazing matriarch of our whānau.”

“She was the wealth of info for us as a whānau, and helped me personally on my taha Māori journey.”

Dan Walker (left) and his grandmother, Te Rau o Te Huia who inspired his new custom AI.

Walker says growing up in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, he was disconnected from his culture.

He hopes that this tool can help other young Māori connect their tuakiri (identity).

Walker’s IT career stemmed from curiosity as a youngster. Starting off as a ‘tutu’ in his teens, Walker’s journey began in retail at a Dick Smith store.

Over time, his journey has seen him venture into places like Samsung, Dell technologies and now, he is sharing his knowledge in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“If I can bring te ao Māori and tech together, it’s even better.”

While Walker welcomes the idea of using AI to preserve mātauranga Māori, he says we need to be cautious when sharing sensitive information online.

“You shouldn’t put all of your mātauranga Māori into this space because that’s [very] tapu, but it is a place where you can put some of the basic stuff to help with connection.”

“It is something we need to be weary of, but I’m a believer that it can be used for good and Māori need to engage with it.”

“It’s a way that we can start owning the narrative and build AI that supports us.”

The custom AI was designed last year and is still in its infancy, but Walker says the main objective is reconnecting the next generation with their Māori identity.

“I don’t think an AI will ever be what Nana Chick was - never. But in some small way if this AI can help with connection, particularly for our rangatahi, then that’s awesome.”

To access this online tool, search ‘Te Rau o Te Huia’ on ChatGPT.