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Te Papa’s Treaty of Waitangi exhibit defaced

Te Papa protest: It’s a mistake to ignore ‘painful’ parts of history, museums boss says, Radio NZ, 13 December 2023

Aotearoa Liberation League and Te Waka Hourua protesting at Te Papa on 11 December, 2023, over the English text of Treaty of Waitangi displayed in the museum. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver.

A current Treaty of Waitangi exhibition at Te Papa is intended to explore the tensions of having two versions, the Museums Aotearoa chief executive says.

Adele Fitzpatrick was commenting after protesters damaged a part of the exhibition on Monday.

A group called Te Waka Hourua spraypainted over a panel of a version of the English text of the Treaty of Waitangi, resulting in the arrest of 12 people.

The group and some Māori academics want the English text on display removed, calling it a misleading mistranslation.

However, Fitzpatrick said the exhibition was about the differences and tensions of the two versions and was designed to spark conversations about the Treaty’s meaning and application.

“Both of those versions are documents that existed and are part of our story,” she told Morning Report.

“It’s a mistake to ignore parts of our history because we don’t like it now or because it’s painful now.”

She believed the protesters’ action went a step too far and there was no excuse for vandalism.

A panel which showed an English version of the Treaty of Waitangi at Te Papa museum has been damaged with spray paint on 11 December, 2023.
A panel which showed an English version of the Treaty of Waitangi at Te Papa museum has been damaged with spray paint on 11 December, 2023. Photo: Supplied / Xavier Wasek-Webb.

Fitzpatrick was surprised no-one stepped in to stop them but perhaps there was nobody on duty nearby or they were mistaken for workmen, she said.

She did not favour a big increase in spending on security at the country’s major museums and art galleries.

They were open places for communities where people could exchange views and security has not been a strong feature up to now, she said.

“It’s a tricky one; it’s important that we find a balance between security measures that protect our visitors, staff and exhibitions while still preserving that freedom that museums and galleries have and it really does come down to cost.”

It would be a shame if galleries and museums had to spend more money on security measures which might come at the expense of paying staff, local artists and educational programmes.

For the likes of Te Papa, it might mean increased insurance costs and this was not what they were funded for.

She said views about historical events change over time so it was crucial that funding for museums and galleries be maintained so that their exhibitions could keep pace with contemporary thinking.

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Paul Goldsmith told Morning Report both the English and Māori language versions of the Treaty of Waitangi are legitimate.

“Both translations are in the Treaty of Waitangi Acts, they’re in legislation, the English language one, its in the legislation, Te Tiriti is in the legislation as well and so I have no sympathy and there is no excuse for people coming in and vandalising an English language text,” Goldsmith said.

He said he was “wound up” after listening to other Māori justifying the actions of the protesters.

“That display there with the two different versions of the Treaty and a lot of information about the disagreements over it, different interpretations of it, I think it’s an appropriate display and there is no excuse for the vandalism that we saw.”

He said discussions around the review of the Treaty of Waitangi principals will spark significant conversation.

“It’s only natural when you have a new government where there are things on the table that there will be people who want to make their voices clear, there will be protests and that’s appropriate,” Goldsmith said.

Morning Report also clarified that the protest group at Te Papa, which is called Te Waka Hourua does not have any association with the waka expert group of the same name, nor any waka hourua organisations in Aotearoa. Te Waka Hourua has asked the protest group to change its name.

See also: Protesters arrested after defacing Treaty of Waitangi exhibit at Te Papa