A Breach on the Beach: Te Papa and the fraying of biculturalism

Paul Williams


In 1998, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand opened to the public. The new national museum is strongly bicultural in terms of its architecture, organization, and management – and in the way it represents history and society in exhibitions. In the past year political developments have seen a decisive shift in public opinion away from tolerance of Maori land claims made on the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi. Given that the museum’s founding policies and mission are organized around the authority of the Treaty, Te Papa now finds itself in a challenging position: in what ways do its current permanent exhibitions communicate “biculturalism” – the awkward marriage between Maori and Pakeha – the latter far from universally accepted as a proper noun describing New Zealanders of (mainly British) colonial descent? I explore those exhibitions that explicitly deal with issues of land and territory in order to gauge the extent to which Te Papa can engage with New Zealand’s current shift in political mood.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Paul Williams

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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