On Partnerships & the Perpetuation of Culture: an Interview with the Hokotehi Moriori Trust

Moriori descendant, Nicole Whaitiri with a rakau momori (living tree carving) on

With Susan Thorpe and Maui Solomon

The Hokotehi Moriori Trust (HMT) is a partner in the IPinCH Moriori Cultural Database project, which focuses on the recording of Moriori cultural heritage. 


This is a multi-layer database that ties together research on Moriori identity, cultural heritage protection, land use and resource management in culturally sensitive ways. In this interview, Susan Thorpe and Maui Solomon, of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust, share their thoughts on the HMT-IPinCH partnership. 

What is the nature of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust partnership with IPinCH?

HMT: The Moriori Case Study was proposed through the agency of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust’s culture and identity trust (Te Keke Tura Moriori). Hokotehi, which means unity, is the overarching legal body for all Moriori wherever they may live and for the advancement of Moriori health, welfare and education. It’s mission statement is to apply the wisdom and values of the past so as to ensure the physical and spiritual nourishment of present and future generations of Moriori; thus honouring the legacy of our karapuna (ancestors). The Trust endeavours to base it’s business and strategic planning around the core Moriori values of unity, sharing and listening. While these values may not always be achieved, they remain as important markers in the cultural landscape of Moriori.

The Moriori Cultural Database project set out its aims as follows:

a) To establish a Moriori cultural knowledge database for the recording of traditional knowledge; b) To carry out survey work with elders in an indigenous methodological and ethical framework; c) To ensure that Moriori IP is protected through appropriate recording and access protocols; d) To develop the Hokotehi knowledge recording mentorship programme to assist with the expansion of the TKRP project in future years and to up-skill our members in recording technology; e) To develop indigenous archaeological recording methods that may work as models for other indigenous communities; f) To explore options for land and resource management which protect cultural heritage.


What mentoring opportunities are provided through the IPinCH-HMT partnership?

HMT: Responses to problems caused by historic archaeological surveys on the islands initially resulted in the Hokotehi Heritage Strategy (May 2006), which proposed a bicultural approach blending archaeological field work with elder knowledge.  

Soon after this work started we were gifted the TKRP software and training, which then formed the basis of a digital approach to recording in the field. The use of digital technology has enabled us to overcome many of the barriers potentially found in remote isolated communities. The use of digital technology has enabled us to share data, record, store and adapt without additional expense. We have found the use of the scans, the TKRP system and the use of flip cams to records field work and wisdom to be a good contemporary solution that also enables high levels of participation. We can now make our own maps and planning documents by using the film clips, GPS data and key word TKRP software. Key ingredients in using this technology have been – intergenerational, in control and inspirational. We have struggled at times to get all three happening at once but at least we can be confident that our records will be available for present and future generations.

The use of the flip cams and other recording methods have enabled us to get better access to Moriori material culture with greater practical understandings of what is required to be engaged in our own culture:

"During the workshop we saw our culture working and by the end we knew we had become tchieki of everything Moriori – supportive of each other in our mahi, preparing kai and other marae-based chores. It was a wonderful experience." (Workshop Attendee, Oct 2010) 

The case study work enabled us to run two cultural database workshops at Kopinga Marae in 2010. The first was focussed on document and caring for taonga. A large collection of taonga Moriori had been in storage at Te Papa for many years and was finally brought home by Te Papa collection managers and conservators. Our workshop designed an accession system and worked to record and conserve every artefact. Attendees built museum storage boxes and also set up a new museum display at the marae, selecting all items ourselves. During the workshop we were joined by other experts and researchers including Todd O’Hagan (who had helped with the design and construction of aspects of the marae); Geoff Walls (ecologist), Otago University surveyors (carrying out laser scanning), and Robin Atherton (DNA researcher). Attendees at the workshop heard presentations from these people, assisted with laser scanning of rakau momori and headstones, and worked with Robin in the field sampling kopi DNA. 

The second workshop was based on preservation of images and digital records. Te Papa staff assisted with reproducing high resolution copies of images and interview techniques. Many of the younger ones involved made their own short identity films. During this workshop we also had the repatriation of a taonga (an adze) from a museum in New Zealand. Putting taonga in museums can be beneficial (for the taonga) but can also result in disconnections in cultural continuity and knowledge. The digital recording work and our upcoming digital reciprocity project (discussed in the section “After IPinCH”) are important because they can enable our people; our artists to reconnect with lost traditions and technology. One of the emerging consequences of our work is that researchers no longer need to take our taonga away from the island to study them. Keeping the 18 trees we have removed from the forest on the island and learning how to treat them ourselves is an example of this.

One of the outcomes of this workshop was the reproduction of ca. 500 images taken in the 1960s of the rakau momori. The images were on loan from David Simmons and are now part of a growing comparative collection of the trees, comprising Jefferson’s sketches (1953), Simmons photographs (1960s), DOC photogrammetric images (1980s), laser scans (2010) and Maxwell images (2010-13).


At both workshops attendees learned, by doing, about tikane Moriori, caring for guests, performing welcome and farewell ceremonies, collecting and hunting for food, providing hospitality, and experiencing first-hand traditional foods, such as paua, kina, koura, eel and other sea food. Those who worked on the TKRP recording project learned techniques for camera positioning; camera fade and zoom; outdoor sound recording; and interview techniques.  The workshops concluded with the formation of an island youth council and the development of a youth mentor’s database. This is one area where we really struggle on Rekohu. There is no secondary schooling available on the island so once our young ones turn 13 they leave for years of schooling away from home. Opportunities for engagement with elders are, therefore, precious.

In what ways has this partnership made a difference to those involved?

HMT: Our involvement in the IPinCH project as research partners and a case study has been rewarding and productive. The momentum created by the initial case study proposal means that this work will have a better chance of longevity. The case study work has enabled us to participate in a wide community of related research activity that has been inspiring.


"Our work with IPinCH has given us cause to think more deeply about certain matters, especially IP and the way we think about ethics and engagement."


Work on the cultural database and TKRP style recording will not cease. The aim is to keep this running as a perpetual project, whenever staff, time and resources allow it. As will collaborative work with our colleagues in the Hopi and Kanaka Maoli communities. As part of this vision we are planning a collaborative session on indigenous methodologies at the next ISE Congress in Bhutan, 2014 and reciprocal exchanges with our TKRP colleagues in Australia and with Hopi in Arizona. We have some additional projects in mind, however.

Our priority for the rest of 2013 and after is the preservation of rakau momori removed from the forest alongside emergency remedial efforts to protect the trees still in the forest. This work will include construction of artificial wind breaks and planting of a large shelter belt alongside vulnerable trees. The conservation work will involve adapting a used shipping container as a conservation laboratory for the trees, which will eventually be housed in a dedicated whare taonga (museum and research centre at Kopinga). This centre is part of a long-term vision and it is hoped that it will be part of a complex for a teaching and learning centre in peace traditions and conflict management. In the future we would like to see Moriori being able to carry out research on their culture, hokopapa, stories and arts on Rekohu. To this end we have been investigating a project based on the notion of ‘digital reciprocity’ where taonga in overseas museum will be documented in an online database. The idea is that Moriori researchers will be able to contribute curatorial and collection information and museum staff can contribute accession data in a curator/tchieki connection that reinforces cultural continuity.  We dream of a time when our own members can have access to rare taonga removed from the island centuries ago at the touch of a button, and be able to use images and accession information for revival of traditions.

Reigniting the carving of living trees is also a priority project.  Foundation work on this started with the Me Rongo Congress where artists assisted with advice on techniques for carvings.  This will be revived in the near future.

We wish to work towards regular and routine assemblages of the ‘digital tattoo’ that concerns Moriori. By this we mean the proliferation of open source information that builds up without, currently, occasion to validate any of it. As part of this too we have been thinking about the open sharing of Moriori images and have been working with Turi Park, a prominent designer and artist, to liberate our symbols and imagery (in the spirit of the gift economy) from the constraints of conventional IP.

The next two years will also see joint applications with Te Papa to overseas museums for the return of Moriori human remains. Part of this will include joint research projects and opportunities for Moriori internships, connecting living people with museum material objects. We are aiming to connect the repatriation work with the digital reciprocity research and hope that this will include visits from museum staff to Rekohu where they can engage, first hand, with the culture whose treasures they have cared for over centuries reside.

Finally, we want to take the discourse, as Darrell Posey put it “beyond IP”. The accumulative record of archaeological evidence, elder interviews, and reawakening of cultural connections will be essential ingredients for Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations, tribal policy documents and local instruments such as a resource management plan, which should bolster the legitimacy of customary resource practices such as birding and sustainable gathering of traditional foods.

Photos: Database team with trainee students Te Whaanga lagoon; Scanning at Manukau urupa; Greg holding Hopo patu; a list of the many projects and partnerships fostered through this initiative; Moriori descendant, Nicole Whaitiri with a rakau momori (living tree carving) on Rekohu (Chatham Islands). (Photo: Ross Giblin, courtesy of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust).

Susan Thorpe is an archaeologist working primarily on recording heritage landscapes through the use of Indigenous methodologies. Her work focuses on landscapes as signifiers for identity. She is currently Special Projects Co-ordinator for Hokotehi Moriori Trust and a case study co-developer in the international IPinCH project.

Maui Solomon is a Moriori/Maori barrister specializing in Indigenous rights advocacy and IP.  He is a past President of the International Socierty for Ethnobiology and currently General Manager of Hokotehi Moriori Trust, Co-Chair of the Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Trust; Adjunct Professor in the Department of First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University and a case study co-developer in the international IPinCH project.