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Te Papa’s Treaty of Waitangi visits surge

Interest in Te Tiriti o Waitangi exhibition rises as Te Papa looks to transform it, Radio NZ, 2 February 2024

Te Papa is seeing a surge of interest in its Treaty of Waitangi exhibit after it was vandalised by protesters last year.

The museum says the number of visitors identifying the exhibit as a highlight has jumped from 18 percent to 43 percent since December.

That’s when a group of protesters damaged the wooden panel showing the English version with spray paint and an angle grinder.

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Courtney Johnston Photo: supplied.

The Signs of a Nation Te Tiriti o Waitangi exhibition has been at the museum since opening day in 1998.

The protesters’ move came after years of calls to update the exhibition amid criticism it suggests two equal documents were signed.

The protesters said the display should make it explicit that Māori never ceded sovereignty.

The museum’s co-leaders said at the time they would “renew” the exhibit, and have formed a new team to spearhead the project.

Chief executive Courtney Johnston said there had been “rich and really thoughtful” conversations within the display space since the incident.

“The number of people who are going into the exhibit and seeing it as the highlight has transformed,” she told Morning Report.

The museum was in the early days of deciding on a new exhibit, however, it had assembled its project team and begun discussions with organisations such as the National Library, Archives New Zealand and Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Some nationwide research has been commissioned and opinions will also be able to shared online soon, so that people unable to visit Te Papa could share their thoughts, she said.

“We are looking to transform this space … We are only 16 years away from the 200th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti, so when we think about this exhibit we’ll be transforming it to help New Zealanders to hold those conversations about identity and belonging and people coming together in this country that get us ready for that anniversary and then hold us into that time and after it as well.

“So I think we’ll be seeing a transformation.”

It was yet to be decided if the old exhibit would be retained once something new was in place.

She accepted the exhibit of the two versions with the explanatory text in the middle probably didn’t reflect “the way that New Zealand is talking now”.

“So the change is timely.”