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Empowering museums

Aotearoa board role challenging but exciting.

Two Gisborne-connected women have been appointed co-chairs of the Museums Aotearoa board, which advocates for the nation's 400 or so museums and galleries.

Tairawhiti Museum director Eloise Wallace and former Gisborne Girls' High School student Tui Te Hau were elected to the board at the Museums Aotearoa AGM on June 24 and appointed co-chairs.

The appointments come as the organisation embarks on a significant new piece of work.

“At the AGM, Museums Aotearoa adopted the National Repatriation Policy for Koiwi Tangata and Associated Burial Taonga, which will help guide museums in taking an ethical approach to the respectful management of remains within their care,” Mrs Wallace said.

Museums Aotearoa board member Amber Aranui was the project lead for the Ngakahu project established by Te Papa museum which worked with Museums Aotearoa on developing the policy.

“While repatriating remains could be a daunting journey for museums, the policy will provide support and help make Aotearoa as proactive with domestic repatriation and repatriating ancestors overseas, as it was with getting ancestors home,” Ms Aranui said.

Mrs Wallace said the policy had been many years in the making.

“It's really about ensuring that museums are empowered and know how to go about repatriating Koiwi human remains and associated burial goods from museum collections within New Zealand,” she said.

“We've been quite good repatriating them from overseas but this is more about doing the work within New Zealand.”

It is thought there are “some thousands” of human remains in collections around New Zealand.

“A lot of museums have been very active already but there is still a lot of work to do, so the adoption of this policy by Museums Aotearoa is a good step towards that.”

Mrs Wallace expects her new national role to be challenging but exciting.

“It's really to be an advocate for museums within New Zealand . . . working with government agencies and other stakeholders that work with museums and also supporting museums with their needs, whether it's with their local council or professional support.

“Museums have been through a tough time. Covid-19 has had a massive impact so the role of Museums Aotearoa is really critical now.

“We will definitely be doing some work as a board to make sure Museums Aotearoa is fit for purpose for the needs of museums and galleries coming out of Covid.”

Mrs Wallace said it was important to ensure museums were able to thrive, not just survive.

“There are always lots of pressures and challenges on museums but they are really vital engines in communities for cultural, economic and social wellbeing.

“The fun thing with this new role is being an advocate for how great museums are . . . encouraging the public to support museums because without international visitors a lot of museums are finding it a really challenging time.

“People can support them by visiting or buying something from the shop — we have seen that here in Gisborne.

“Some museums have seen big increases in domestic visitation . . . that's the most important thing people can do to support them.”

Tui Te Hau is the director of public engagement at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington.

“Growing up in Gisborne, the museum, in particular Wyllie Cottage, were favourite places to visit but I never imagined I would one day be working in the museum sector,” she said.

“On reflection, my time at Gisborne Girls' High taught me to be curious, creative and think outside the square, all traits needed to work in this space.

“I'm proud to be a Gisborne Girls' old girl.

“I'm delighted to be working with Eloise, who is a highly-respected museum director nationally. Together we want to raise the profile of the museum sector and highlight the contribution it makes in economic, social and cultural terms.

“I am also looking forward to greater engagement with whanau, hapu and iwi to support them in the care of their taonga and stories.”

CO-CHAIR: Tairawhiti Museum director Eloise Wallace enjoying a new national role. Picture by Paul Rickard
Museums Aotearoa co-chair Tui Te Hau. Picture supplied