Media Statements


Significant gift on the agenda for Iwi delegation’s UN visit

Sixty-eight iwi have maintained their staunch support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) at Waitangi on 5 February 2016, with an iwi delegation set to visit the United Nations in New York later this week.

The delegation will leave for New York on Friday 19th February, 2016 on behalf of the national Iwi Chairs Forum (the ICF) to begin discussions with the United Nations and the indigenous people of New York. The focus of the discussions is the gifting of a bronze whatarangi (elevated storehouse) as a symbol of endorsement for the Declaration by the Māori nations of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The proposed United Nations gift – called Māori Tū – is being created at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) at Te Puia in Rotorua.

The initiative involves the creation of two whatarangi – a wooden carved original to remain in New Zealand and a four tonne bronze cast version, which is proposed to be presented to the United Nations.

The bronze taonga has the mandate of the ICF, a forum representing 68 iwi around New Zealand, through the signing of a highly symbolic declaration, Te Ōhākī Tautoko a Māori Tū in November 2014.

Members of the delegation who will travel to New York include NZMACI director and ICF technical advisor Karl Johnstone, six representatives from Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki (Gisborne – East Coast) and two from Ngāruahine (Taranaki – West Coast).

Paramount chief of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Iwi Leaders Group Chairman for Māori Tū, Sir Tumu te Heuheu says the connection of the two whatarangi is a deliberate measure to generate dialogue and consideration between the articles of the Declaration and the rights of iwi Māori across all political processes and legislative considerations in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“One of the project’s key objectives is to create a wider awareness of the Declaration, including its social and political context, and its importance to Māori and to New Zealand. We hope that over time, other nations, including those throughout the Pacific, will connect to this kaupapa (initiative).

“We expect that the taonga will also help define a set of values to help foster the future relationship between iwi and the United Nations.”

Karl Johnstone, says the tohu (symbol) of the whatarangi was chosen for Māori Tū as the storehouse represents the wealth and importance of Māori cultural heritage.

“The whatarangi is a symbol of safe-keeping, identity and cultural wellbeing, and it represents the storage and maintenance of tangible and intangible heritage. These are all aspects that the Declaration sets out to protect.”

Mr Johnstone says the kōrero (stories) captured in the carving reference a range of Māori values and social frameworks, including tapu (regulation), whakapapa (connectivity), manaakitanga (benevolence), kaitiakitanga (sustainability), mana (prestige) and concepts of humanity.

United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Helen Clark, visited the NZMACI Foundry in August 2014 and declared the project to be an “enormous” and an “exciting undertaking”. At the time, she said that the use of bronze was “a concrete statement of a culture that has stood through time and continues to do so.”

Mr Johnstone says NZMACI is trying to push the limits of the bronze material, including its ability to capture the finest elements of carving.

“The foundry and its resulting art is a meeting of time honoured practices, particularly the reductive carving process and the reflective casting process.”

He says the foundry is part of an ongoing focus of introducing new knowledge and expertise to its students and schools, and NZMACI is proud to facilitate the creation of the taonga with the ICF for the United Nations.

Mr Johnstone says while many might consider bronze to be contemporary in terms of Māori culture, the skills and techniques have been used for more than 7000 years elsewhere in the world. Bronze also has a long history in New Zealand – even though it may not be well known – cast bronze patu (short weapons) were traded with iwi on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to New Zealand between 1772 and 1775.

“Māori have always adapted to and adopted new technology and while our materials may change over time, the thought processes that underpin the culture remain the same,” he says. 

Key Facts and Figures – Māori Tū Whatarangi

  • Being created at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia in Rotorua
  • Base 1600 mm x 2375 mm
  • Paepae (Barge board) 2400 mm
  • Support pole 2375 mm
  • Total height 3650 mm
  • Estimated weight 4 – 4.5 tonne


More information here: 16 Hui-tanguru (Feb)

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