Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha – Oli du Bern

Ko te kaituku, ko ia te kaiwhiwhi – the person who gives, will be the recipient.

As Neavin so aptly puts it, “You can’t have kiwi without iwi”. This neatly expresses exactly how we felt at Wellington Zoo. We always knew we wanted to offer the opportunity for an iwi voice throughout our New Zealand precinct, and we felt we couldn’t develop a New Zealand experience without the perspectives of tangata whenua.

Getting started

Finding where to start was challenging. The process started years ago when, with Meet the Locals in mind, I went to a workshop about working with iwi on interpretive projects, organised by the Interpretation Network of New Zealand (INNZ) at Rāpaki Marae on Banks Peninsula. One of the facilitators gave me the best advice which has stuck with me. Joe Harawira from DOC said, “Oli, working with iwi is about finding the right people to talk to and building a relationship. Tell them what you are doing and your stories, and ask if they would like to add their perspective. Be prepared for them to say no. Simple as that.”

To be successful, it was obvious that we needed to leave our egos and any preconceived ideas at the door, and enter this collaboration open to all possibilities.

Building a relationship

It was at a Nature Connections workshop on Matiu/Somes Island that I was introduced to the work the Taranaki Whanui is doing in the Wellington region. Neavin Broughton led a session on the historical context of the Wellington area. I introduced myself and the next Monday, we caught up by phone and I offered the opportunity to integrate their perspective into the space. Luckily for us, Neavin said yes and things started to happen.

Neavin and I came to an agreement about each of our roles in the project. Neavin would provide Wellington Zoo with guidance, advice, contacts and perspectives. My role would be the ‘grunt work’ – the writing, note taking, logistics, and taking the theory into the practical. Having this clarity of tasks worked well for us.

Our early discussions were more around the broader context of what we were trying to achieve. We talked about what makes Wellington Zoo different from any other in the world, general Maori concepts, things that I need to be aware of when working with iwi, and how to develop the iwi voice with integrity rather than being tokenistic. More importantly, we discussed my love of mountain biking and Neavin’s family life in the Wairarapa. This was important because it helped build a relationship founded on more than just the project at hand.

Developing the story

The process of deciding the stories for the precinct was pretty straight forward. I haven’t worked with many people that have such a depth of understanding and clarity of their stories. Neavin’s first idea was pitched around the story of the Wellington region. However we were keen to have a closer link to the animals that would be living in the space. We went back to him and together we decided to focus more on the creation story of Ranginui (Sky Father), Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and the atua (guardians) of the different realms. Pou korero (talking posts) were the primary media they wanted to use to tell their stories.

Through a refining process we settled on four pou korero. The pou represented the atua; Tangaroa, Rongomātāne, Tāne and Tūmatauenga. Each has an accompanying panel, which is firstly in Te Reo, with an English interpretation below (note: there is a difference between interpretation and translation). The panels are secondary to the pou, there to make the stories more accessible to our audience.

Not all ideas made it into the final design. For example, we decided to leave out the idea of a waharoa to welcome people into the precinct. We threw around some ideas of how we could make it happen, but we all came to the agreement that if we couldn’t do it right, we weren’t going to do it. We settled on having a welcome in Te Reo on our entryway: Nau mai, Haramai, Piki mai, Kake mai.

Integrating the story into the space

Moving from the concepts to the physical design seemed to go smoothly. Neavin identified a potential artist, Ngatai Taepa, early in the process. Knowing the contemporary spatial design of the precinct, Neavin felt that Ngatai’s work would fit well with the aesthetic. We loved Ngatai’s concept as soon as we saw it, and on later reflection, we could see our early discussions and briefing had put us all on the same page. We couldn’t be happier with the end result.

The iwi also gifted us a name for the precinct. Neavin ran a workshop with our project group to distil the essence of the precinct and then offered up some suggestions. Aside from the meaning of words, there were many other things that Neavin considered, like, how easy was it to pronounce? What was its relationship to the English name? Other Maori names we use in the Zoo and other Maori names used at other locations around Wellington?

He Tuku Aroha has many meanings, but one of ours is “A gift or sharing of love”. We have always talked about the precinct being our love story to Aotearoa New Zealand. The precinct is our gift to the community and to our animals.

Creating connections with the iwi voice

Once we had decided on a name, there was still more work to be done with our staff. Neavin ran two workshops, to help them understand the stories and concepts that underpin the name, the pou korero, the atua and words on the entry way. The staff also put a lot of effort into learning a waiata we could use for the official events.

On October 22nd, we held a blessing and the official opening of Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha. The blessing that took place the morning of the opening was a real highlight. Zoo staff and iwi walked the precinct in the rain, and the Kaumatua brought the pou and the precinct to life through karakia. We ended with Zoo staff singing our waiata and a bit of kai. It was a great experience.

Final thoughts

Working on the iwi voice for Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha has been an incredibly rewarding experience. We dedicated 12 months to the iwi voice and we couldn’t be happier with the result. We really couldn’t have done it without Neavin’s and Ngatai’s hard work. We hope that our work together on this precinct can be just the beginning of a partnership between Wellington Zoo and Taranaki Whanui.

Here are some simple tips for those interested in adding an iwi context to their site:

  • Give yourself time – start early, tight deadlines won’t work. There are only a few people in the iwi that do this kind of work and they have a lot of demands on their time.
  • Allocate resources – You will need to allocate staff time and budget to this work. It is not fair to expect iwi to work for free.
  • Focus on the relationship over the project – sometimes a coffee and talking about life outside of work is more important that getting the job done.
  • Ask, avoid telling – Ask for perspectives and guidance, and you need to be open to all possibilities. Sometimes this means leaving egos and preconceived ideas at the door. 

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