Code of ethics: Appendix A, Natural History Ethics for Aotearoa New Zealand
Our Code describes the responsibilities of museums, galleries, governing bodies and staff, to each other and to the collections, as well as to the public who support, fund and visit a museum or gallery.
This Appendix supports the Code of Ethics & Professional Practice of Museums Aotearoa with material specific to the curation, collection and display of natural history material.5 The ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums (see http://icomnatistethics.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/icom-nathist-code-of-ethics/ updated in 2013) covers current best practice for natural history institutions globally and is to be referred to for broader ethical considerations.
However, this Appendix considers the collection and display of items of natural history and heritage taking into account Māori customary rights.
Natural history and Māori
For Māori, the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are closely intertwined, if not the same. Ancestors and supernatural beings are ever present, helping to create, shape and nurture the landscape. Spiritual knowledge is inextricably interwoven with traditional knowledge and expertise about the environment, which is handed down to successive generations.
When including Māori concepts in the interpretation of nature or display of natural objects, it is important to remember that differences exist among iwi. Museums will engage fully in consultation to ensure that the correct kōrero is being presented.
Tikanga (customary protocols)
Tikanga should be observed for certain natural history objects. For example: a items in which an umbilicus, placenta or human remains have been deposited are considered tapu (sacred), and are not to be near food, representations of food or cooking implements;
The ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums covers collection and display of human remains, because some natural history museums globally have anthropology collections. However, this is not the case in New Zealand, so they are not considered here.
individual organisms, such as the kauri tree Tāne Māhuta and rocks, such as petroglyphs and the stern and bow of the Tainui waka and Wairaka may also have substantial cultural significance or be considered tapu;
huia feathers, because of their cultural significance, are to be displayed with respect.
Te whakaatuhanga (display of live animals and plants)
All living plants and animals contain ‘mauri’ a life force or essence. All displays of live organisms will be given the respect associated with their mauri. In addition, some live organisms contain a special life force of their own. These ‘tupua’ are associated in Māori culture with supernatural powers. Each iwi has its own tupua, which can range from a bird such as a white kererū, a river, a log that travels upstream, or an albino eel (tuna). A live tupua is never to be displayed.
Once an animal or plant is dead, it is devoid of mauri, and is not restricted from display.
Within this general rule, however, certain cultural mores apply. Some examples include:
- parts of animals that have been made into weapons or other items associated with death (these items may be considered tapu and consultation with the appropriate iwi is required);
- for some iwi seeing a gecko (moko kākāriki; moko tāpiri) is considered a symbol of bad luck, but this is not universal;
- similarly, the fantail (pīwaiwaka/tīwaiwaka) may represent either good or bad luck, depending on the iwi and the circumstances.
Objects (taonga) that are considered tapu are not to be placed near, or in the same case, as those that are ‘noa’ (non-sacred or free from tapu). Tapu objects should also not be displayed lower than those that are noa, should not be near food, representations of food or cooking implements.
In summary, consultation is to be undertaken when displaying native species or those that may have cultural implications.
Cultural identity and relationships
Some iwi consider that they whakapapa back to (descend from) biological or geological entities. For instance, Ngāi Tahu maintain a special relationship to pounamu and Ngāti Kiore to the kiore (Pacific rat). While these relationships typically do not limit collection or display, broader issues of conservation or harvesting may arise and require consultation.
Most iwi have kōrero that they keep only for themselves, passing them on to their own uri (descendents). These include information on whakapapa, pakanga (battles), waiata (songs) and whakatauki (proverbs). Through proper consultation it is possible to gauge which kōrero is correct and appropriate for public consumption.
Collecting and Iwi
The exemption of proprietary rights to minerals, the conservation estate, foreshore and seabed, coupled with the lack of compensation is contentious for Māori and continue to be key issues for claims to the Waitangi Tribunal. While the Conservation Act 1987 and the Resource Management Act 1991 cover collecting such material, ethical considerations remain in dispute in a number of unresolved areas.
While legislation around the customary harvest of beached marine mammals is in flux, it is important for museum staff to understand that the beaching of a marine mammal can hold immense cultural significance for local hapū (sub-tribe). Some iwi, such as Ngāi Tahu, have formalised agreements with the Department of Conservation around processes in response to whale strandings. Museums that wish to collect material from stranded whales and other marine mammals will take into consideration any agreements or expectations in place with iwi within that geographical region.
Collecting and the crown
Depending on the circumstances of their initial collection, wildlife items or items from conservation land may remain the property of the Crown.
5 The ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums covers collection and display of human remains, because some natural history museums globally have anthropology collections. However, this is not the case in New Zealand, so they are not considered here