Why Save Indigenous Cultures?

Brad Miller spoke on the Maori Carving Center Project in New Zealand explaining why we should even care about indigenous cultures.  The movie Avatar is a Hollywood version, while there are real tribes and cultures that need saving, including the New Zealand Maori.

He explained that their way of life has a different set of values, something we can learn from, or at least reflect on.  Over the last 1000 years the Maori tribes have evolved from warriors that attacked each other all the time to a culture steeped in customs and traditions.  They respect and work with nature and hold values our society could learn from.

Relationships are very important to the Maori. They are overwhelming hospitable and will go without to treat guests well.  Brad said he was invited to stay for several months so they could get to know him better!

Brad described welcoming ceremonies that can last over an hour. “Imagine how you would feel if you were welcomed for an hour,” he said.  The Maori developed ceremonies to make sure there was a way for the warrior tribes to meet peacefully rather than attack each other all the time.  “And they don’t want you to leave feeling bad,” so the departing ceremony is prolonged too. Brad asked how we would feel if our culture treated us in the same way given that our youth may not even say “hello” or “goodbye” let alone offer a handshake.

Another comparison was the value of the Meeting House, the center of Maori cultural activities.  Brad explained that while we appraise buildings by the cost, materials, the view etc., the Maori consider the history of the property, the significance of the land and the stories told by the carvings to be of importance.  He said they do not mention the square footage or how much it might have cost per square foot.

The carving center not only allows them to pass on their cultural artform but is part of a bigger plan for the Maori of the area to move toward self-sufficiency. They have high unemployment, have relied on government handouts for decades and the government has been encouraging them to take care of themselves.

In addition, there is a multi-pronged plan on the site of the carving center to build a museum to display their artifacts, develop honey production, cultural overnight visits, organic gardening and cruise ship visitors to support the local Maori.  Unemployment is high in the rural area of Hokianga so the youth have left for the cities to find work. With more potential for income, they hope to have more return to their land.

Brad reported that as of July 1, probably due to the economic downturn, the New Zealand Labour government is pulling back many of the support programs for the Maori.

Our Carving Center project was completed just in time.