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Tariana Turia Speech - Taonga

Hon Tariana Turia
12 March 2004 Speech Notes


Notes prepared for speech to opening of 'Awakening – Conversations with our Ancestors' – Exhibition at Te Tuhi-The Mark Gallery, 13 Reeves Road, Pakuranga, 3.00pm.

E nga mana, e nga reo, tena koutou.

E te iwi kainga, Ngai Tai, kua mihi mai koutou, tena koutou.

E nga iwi e huihui nei, tena tatou katoa.

Ka huri au ki to tatou manuhiri tuarangi, ki a Joy Wandin-Murphy, koutou ko to iwi Wurundjeri, tena koutou.

Joy, it is a privilege to be able to join in the welcome to you here today. Part of our tikanga, our custom, is reciprocity – utu. So it is nice to be able to return your welcome and hospitality to me and my party, when we visited Melbourne last August for an Indigenous Women's Gathering, prior to a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers.

I want to say how moved I was by the traditional fire-lighting ceremony you conducted to open our gathering at that time. For those who were not there, Joy invited us all to lend our energy to the collective enterprise of igniting a fire.

Control of fire is a distinctively human thing – unique in nature, and common to every culture. I saw the firelighting ceremony as an invitation to recognise our common humanity among the diversity of cultures and languages and histories of indigenous women. The fire we lit in our midst was the enlightenment and warmth we felt, that flowed from that shared understanding.

In my mihi today, I acknowledged the iwi kaainga – the home people, or local tribe. A kainga is where the home fires burn.

Keeping fires burning on land symbolises occupation, and is recognised among all iwi as a form of customary title to land.

I understand that Koorie nations have similar traditions of 'firestick' land management, regularly lighting fires to cleanse the land. In our terms, that would be an expression of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship.

I would guess that fire is symbolically important in all indigenous cultures – it certainly is relevant to our purpose today.

We are here to open an art exhibition, and to celebrate the artistic achievements of our respective iwi – the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa and Australia.

The paintings, poetry, jewellery and films are all taonga in the eyes of our people. I want to talk a bit about this word, because it links our peoples, and also because of its use and translation in the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Williams dictionary defines 'taonga' as property, or anything highly prized, and examples include both concrete possessions and cultural practices such as haka.

The Treaty of Waitangi guarantees to tangata whenua the Crown's protection of 'te tino rangatiratanga o … o ratou taonga katoa'. The English translation describes that as 'full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of [their] … other properties'.

The value we place on taonga is its value in maintaining our cultural identity and autonomy. All our taonga, like those we will experience today, are to be cherished as culturally significant. They are ours and they provide a window to our world, just as the ritual of firelighting led by Joy last year, provided me with a vital awakening into the practices and beliefs of your indigenous peoples.

That is the purpose of all art – an expression of shared values, designed to make us think about what we have in common with others, and what makes us distinctive.

Finally, I want to congratulate and celebrate with you the concept of inviting us to treasure our own conversations with our ancestors. We all carry with us the aspirations, experiences, hopes and dreams of our tüpuna, into every aspect of Te Ao Hurihuri, this fast moving world. It is moments like this when we remember to hold fast to those conversations, to carry us tall and resilient, to determine our actions in the contemporary world. We must never lose sight of their legacy.

I want to thank all the artists who have contributed to this exhibition, and I am so looking forward to having a look at your works.

Kia ka tonu te ahi – may the fire continue to burn!

Kia ora tatou katoa.

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