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He Tohu official opening, 19 May 2017, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington

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MIL OSI – Source: New Zealand Government – Release/Statement

Headline: He Tohu official opening, 19 May 2017, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington

Tēnā koutou katoa

I am pleased to welcome you to the opening of this extraordinary exhibition.

At the centre of He Tohu are three taonga which have played a significant role in shaping our nation:

  • He Whakaputanga, the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of the New Zealand;
  • the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi; and 
  • the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

I would especially like to welcome and acknowledge:

  • Their Excellencies the Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor-General of New Zealand and Sir David Gascoigne;
  • the Honourable Paula Bennett, Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Women and Tourism;
  • in Kingi Tuheitia’s absence, members of the Kīngitanga;
  • my other Ministerial colleagues who are here today; and
  • Ta Tumu te Heuheu, esteemed rangitira and members of the He Tohu Iwi Leader Partner Group who I have worked with throughout the development of this exhibition – it has been an extraordinary experience, and a privilege, to partner with you on this journey.

I am very proud that He Tohu was developed as a partnership between the Crown and Māori.

It is important that this partnership is an enduring one that lasts far beyond today.

I am truly humbled by sheer volume of skill, knowledge and expertise that has been contributed to making He Tohu a reality.

It has been a three year journey, with many different aspects that needed to be woven carefully together.

Some of these threads will be visible when you walk through
He Tohu – be it through the design of the space or in the treasure trove of information available on the interactive displays.

There are lots of other threads that will not be so visible – things like:

  • the advice and wisdom which was so graciously shared by the He Tohu Women’s Suffrage Petition Advisory Group and Māori Technical Advisory Group; and
  • the many years of work from preservation specialists
    at Archives New Zealand and the National Library to ensure that the taonga will endure for at least the next
    500 years.

I had the privilege of being shown around the exhibition space
a few weeks ago and was especially moved by the document room, which is enveloped by rimu panelling.

The undulating shape is inspired by a waka huia, a Māori treasure container.

In the forest, mature rimu are home and protector to many species of flora and fauna – from plants that grow in their upper canopies, to birds that roost in their branches.

The rimu trees from which this panelling was made were blown down in the Kahurangi National Park a few years ago during cyclone Ita.

While these trees are no longer able to protect the plants and creatures of the forest as they once did, I think it is fitting that some of them can continue their role of protector – this time for three of our most important constitutional taonga.

It reflects that these are living documents – they have a life of their own, and the ability to teach, inspire and move people.

The opportunity to be up close with the real things is powerful – and brings all of us closer to the people who signed them.

Many people around our country will be able to make direct connection to these documents – particularly to the Women’s Suffrage Petition, due to the large proportion of women at that time who signed it.

I have my own connection – I recently discovered that my
great-grandmother signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition, and
I feel very proud of this.

As well as displaying the documents themselves, we are hopeful that He Tohu will help us to learn a lot more about
the thousands of ordinary women who championed social change in New Zealand through signing the petition.

I truly believe that this is a remarkable exhibition, and hope you will feel the same.

Thank you again for being here today.

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