OHSWEKEN – Can Six Nations learn from the Maori of New Zealand?
Te Taru White thinks so.
The internationally known speaker outlined his efforts to showcase the New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture for a large crowd at the Six Nations Cultural Experience Conference that began Tuesday at the Six Nations Community Hall.
White told his audience that it was the Maori people from eastern Polynesia who discovered New Zealand, not 18th century British explorer Capt. James Cook. And the Maori brought with them their own rich and vibrant culture.
Drawing parallels with the people of Six Nations, White said that the survival of the Maori culture was threatened by earlier efforts to assimilate his people through colonization.
The attempts at assimilation led to a lot of conflicts and social problems for the Maori.
But White said that the situation for his people started to change in the 1980s when they started to take charge of their lives and of their culture.
“We became energized,” he said. “We didn’t want others out there to control our destiny.
“We got involved in a radio station and we started to push our culture out to the world.”
As well, he said that the Maori people began reconnecting with their values and beliefs. And they started to take a look at the impact they, as a people, had on the economy of New Zealand.
Since then, White said that there have been concentrated efforts to rebuild and restore Maori culture, which now occupies prominent space in both the Museum of New Zealand and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.
“Museums allow you to show your culture, they’re all about you and what you are all about.”
And they are also places of reconciliation, reconnection and healing, he said..
The museum and the institute enable the Maori to practise their culture, celebrate tribalism, display their treasures and practice their traditional values.
In addition, museums provide a showcase for the arts and crafts of the Maori culture, as well as an opportunity to teach their skills to others.
White also outlined how steps were taken to export Maori culture to the world through exhibits at museums outside of New Zealand.
The two-day conference, organized by Grand River Employment and Training, aims to broaden understanding of who the people of Six Nations are, historically and today.
The conference, which began Tuesday and continues Wednesd ay, also seeks to build on a couple of earlier think tanks hosted by Grand River Employment and Training. Those think tanks raised the issue of cultural tourism as a way of building the Six Nations economy.
The conference continues Wednesday with a panel discussion featuring Steven Smith, of Talking Earth Pottery, Janis Montreal, of the Woodland Cultural Centre and Karen Dearlove, of Chiefswood National Historic Site, who will be talking about how the community can benefit from offering a Six Nations cultural experience. Small groups will be formed to generate ideas for creating a Six Nations cultural experience.
Speakers on Tuesday included Leroy Hill, a member of the Grand River Employment and Training board of directors, Iris Wright, a special projects manager with GREAT, Edith Styres, Six Nations tourism manager, and Courtney Betty, president and CEO of Diversity Business Network.
The conference also featured the launch of a book, What Tota Says about Haudenosaunee Values and Work Ethics, and a dinner theatre featuring Yvonne Beaver reading Pauline Johnson poems and Santee Smith, Kaha: wi Dance Theatre and Old Mush Singers.