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Sharples: Protected Objects Third Reading Speech

Protected Objects Third Reading Speech
Dr Pita Sharples
Third Reading; Wednesday 2 August 2006; 5.50pm

My office here in Parliament is a bit like a museum.

For the space I have created here in Parliament is one in which I am surrounded by nga taonga tüturu, objects which speak to me of my tribal history, who tell me who I am.

These protected objects restore to me my humanity - and in turn my humanity seeks to protect them.

It is in the recognition of the rangatiratanga we have as tangata whenua, as mana whenua, that the Maori Party comes to this Bill, passionate about the purpose of better protecting and preserving certain objects.

We are the exclusive keepers of the cultural and intellectual property of our traditional knowledge, our mätauranga me ona tikanga. It is becoming of our role as guardians that we uphold our responsibilities and obligations to exercise mana motuhake in relation to our cultural taonga, including the whakapapa, mana, mauri, ihi and wehi of these taonga.

As part of that guardianship role, we support the intention of the Bill to introduce greater penalties to deter the possible illegal trafficking of Maori cultural material.

Our Maori cultural material has rapidly become fodder for the global market. Indeed, the purchase price for taonga Maori on the international market has tripled in the last few years as the desire for acquisition of a genuine Maori brand gains currency.

The protection and ownership of cultural heritage is perhaps best indicated in the instance of ta moko, our traditional Maori tattooing. Ta moko, to tangata whenua, is considered a taonga - the heritage conveyed through its design, specific to the tribal origins and the personal history of the wearer. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, in her analysis, ‘More than skin deep: Ta Moko today’ has described foreign tattooists' use of Maori designs as

“pillaging the spirit of a tribal people to sate the culturally malnourished appetites of the decadent West”.

The roll call of celebrity wearers of Maori moko includes former heavy weight boxing world champion Mike Tyson sporting a facial tattoo with a distinctive Maori influence, American singer Ben Harper, and US pro cyclist David Clinger whose ‘moko-inspired’ tattoo from an Argentinean tattooist covers the upper half of his face and most of his scalp.

Perhaps the most vivid case in my memory, is that of British pop star, Robbie Williams, who is notorious for his body art. In addition to a Celtic Cross on his right hip, the message, ‘Elvis, grant me serenity’ on his right arm, a symbol of the Amun for the Egyptian sun god Beatles lyrics on his back, the French words, ‘Chacun a son gout’ meaning ‘everybody’s got his own taste’ on his chest, Williams now boasts a Maori design on his right arm.

Now I’d be the first to agree with Williams, each to your own, but make sure it is your own before you start exploiting or appropriating taonga Maori, even if you acquired it legitimately and legally.

In the case of Mr Williams, the cultural heritage, the identity and lineage expressed in his moko comes from my ancestors, that of Ngati Kahungunu. It appears that recently, the rock star has admitted he is bored at looking at the images adorning his physique and is considering surgery to remove them.

Surgery is but one option to restore ownership of other objects of Maori cultural heritage to reside solely with Tangata whenua. Prevention and prohibition of illegal trafficking is the first stop.

In this way, the fact that New Zealand has signed up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property; and the 1995 UNIDROIT convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects is an excellent initiative which the Maori Party is fully supportive of.

These initiatives will help to prevent the rapidly burgeoning international crime demonstrated in the looting of archaeological sites, and of theft of items of significant heritage value, both of our own nation, and also of other countries.

We must ensure ownership of nga taonga tüturu remains firmly with mana whenua, the appropriate tribal owners, to protect the misuse of Maori cultural material.

And in this, I want to acknowledge to those of our people who have defended our intellectual and cultural property from attack.

Members of this House will recall the efforts of Danish toymaker, Lego, who sought to create a multi-million dollar range of toys, the Bionicles. Following protests from Maori groups, as expressed by intellectual property lawyer, Maui Solomon, Lego issued a statement confirming: "The company will seek to develop a code of conduct for cultural expressions of traditional knowledge".

Flaming poi, based on our cultural artifacts, have been described as an ‘emerging trend’ by Time Magazine, for their use in the Nevada Burning Man festival.
And of course earlier this year, Ngai Tamanuhiri and Rongowhakaata smoke free advocate, Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, hit the international headlines when he won a rare public apology from global tobacco giant, Philip Morris, for using Maori images on its packaging.
I pay tribute to the work of pioneers such as Aroha Te Pareake Mead, of Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou, who played a leading role in the development of the 1993 Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
And of course, no mention of cultural objects could be complete without acknowledging the incredible work of the claimants from Ngati Kuri, Te Rarawa and Ngati Wai, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Koata who have put before the Waitangi Tribunal, the flora and fauna and cultural intellectual property claim, WAI 262.

So while we are happy to support the provisions of the Bill, we realise that the ownership of Maori cultural heritage objects may well be revisited, in our lifetime.

In the case of Ngati Kahungunu for instance, our claim, pursuant to Article two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, expressed that recognition and protection of Ngati Kahungunu cultural knowledge and Ngati Kahungunu rongoä, guaranteed tino rangatiratanga over, and full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of all taonga within our rohe.

This is ground-breaking work. Our people hold that at 1840, Ngati Kahungunu collectively and individually, retained a body of cultural knowledge and skills, in respect of which Ngati Kahungunu are kaitiaki.

Te Tino rangatiratanga includes the authority of decision-making, the right to determine indigenous cultural and customary heritage rights, the right to protect, enhance and transmit the cultural knowledge in relation to o rätou taonga katoa.

These are weighty issues for the House to consider. The Protected Objects Amendment Bill is definitely heading in the right direction - but the debate must continue, about the protection and ownership of taonga - both repatriated and newly found.

Our taonga do not belong to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage; they do not belong to Te Papa; they do not belong to museums, to art galleries, to private collections at home and abroad. We respect the curatorial guardians who have cared for our taonga - their research, preservation, security and possession or our treasure is appreciated. But it is about tribal ownership.

For we never forget that it is our inherent right under article two, to te tino rangatiratanga o o rätou whenua o rätou kainga me o rätou taonga katoa.

Our cultural heritage estate, our taonga tapu, are so much part of who we are as indigenous peoples, that it is our life’s work to fulfil our responsibilities and obligations in terms of kaitiakitanga, as expressed in our ownership, authority and protection.


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