He Tohu exhibition created with young people in mind

Issue: Volume 95, Number 20

Posted: 7 November 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5J

A new permanent exhibition at the National Library will feature three of the constitutional documents that have shaped New Zealand.

He Tohu, an exciting new permanent exhibition featuring three of the documents that have shaped our nation, opens in Term 2 2017 at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington.

The exhibition will provide New Zealanders with better access to these documents. School groups visiting the exhibition will have access to educator-led learning programmes and learning resources are being created to support teachers and students to explore the significance of these documents to their own communities.

The three taonga are:

  • 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand
  • 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi
  • 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine.

He Tohu has a number of meanings but for this exhibition it means simply ‘the signs.’ The name refers to the most obvious and powerful element of the exhibition’s three documents, the unique marks or signatures of those who choose to sign them.

A special feature of this exhibition is that it has been developed in partnership between the Crown and iwi Māori, and in collaboration with women’s groups and other key stakeholders, both in government and nationwide.

National Librarian Bill Macnaught, who is responsible for the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and its Services to Schools programme, says He Tohu is being created “with young people in mind”.

“The exhibition will tell the stories of the documents, explain their significance, and encourage debate about how they will influence our future as a people and a nation. The target audience is 10 to 15 years old. Our hope is that all young New Zealanders will be able to visit this exhibition at least once during their school years.”

The exhibition space

The He Tohu exhibition space will feature two distinct areas: a document room and an interpretive space.

The design of the document room has been inspired by the form and function of a waka huia (treasure container). It uses rimu timber from the Kahurangi National Park on the West Coast. The room will have state-of-the-art conservation features, including environmentally controlled display cases.

The interpretive area is designed to be a colourful and lively space with interactive features and learning areas for school groups and tours.

Learning resources

In preparation for the exhibition, the National Library of New Zealand has appointed two of its learning specialists, Arapine Walker and Kate Potter, to guide the development of learning resources and programmes related to He Tohu.

The learning resources will support teachers and students to explore contemporary issues related to themes that underpin the three documents in the exhibition, for example, tino rangatiratanga, justice, democracy, and equality. Their target audience is teachers of students in years 6-10.

Available online, the resources will extend the reach of the exhibition to those unable to visit and into classrooms around the country.

Arapine Walker (Poutiaki Rauemi, Services to Schools) has spent many years as a parent, kaiako, and advisor to kura kaupapa Māori around the country.

“I am working with Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Whangaroa at Matauri Bay to design resources from a Māori knowledge perspective that affirm iwi and hapū histories.”

This approach uses local content to provide meaningful learning experiences that reinforce the student’s language, culture and identity. The philosophy of kura kaupapa Māori, Te Aho Matua, says that students well-grounded in their own history will be better equipped to make sense of their world and find their rightful place in it.

“We will be using digital technology to produce some really exciting material that will enhance the transmission of mātauranga Māori,” says Arapine.

Kate Potter (Learning Specialist) is a secondary school teacher with a background in both museums and educational resource development.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about the importance of young New Zealanders deepening their understanding of our history, including learning about the New Zealand land wars."

“It’s encouraging to see so many different initiatives under development, from the Ministry of Education’s Māori History resource development for years 1-13 to the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories resources being developed by Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage."

“He Tohu has a significant role to play in this important national conversation,” says Kate.

The English-medium learning resources are designed to encourage young people to think critically about our society.

“On one hand, that involves learning about the past and exploring ways that historical events and attitudes impact on people’s lives in Aotearoa New Zealand today."

“But it’s also an opportunity to learn about heroes, people who worked (or are working) hard to make their communities better: more just, more equal, and more compassionate. The ultimate goal is that students find positive ways to contribute to their own communities, both now and in the future,” she says.

He Tohu programmes

He Tohu programmes will focus on both the history and the ongoing significance of the three documents. For example, school groups will be able to explore different responses to Te Tiriti o Waitangi over time or ways that ordinary people can influence people in power.

The close proximity of the National Library to institutions such as Parliament, and the strong networks that exist between educators at informal learning sites throughout Wellington, means that the library will be able to offer a number of collaborative programmes.

As an example, National Library, Wellington Museum, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, Petone Settlers, and Alexander Turnbull Library recently teamed up to present a cross-institution programme focusing on the colonisation of Wellington. The story of the Wakefields and The New Zealand Company has strong links to the Treaty of Waitangi.

“The Wakefield scheme forced the hand of the British government, leading to Hobson being dispatched to organise a Treaty between Māori and the Crown, so the two enterprises are linked by more than just chronology."

“More importantly, many of the key ingredients are the same: competing needs, values, and expectations; complex motivations; cultural misunderstandings; flawed communications; different ways of administering justice; and ultimately, a struggle for dominance, control, and sovereignty,” says Kate.

Feedback on He Tohu has been positive. Jacqui Tyrell, a geography teacher from Queen Charlotte College in Picton wrote: “Our students enjoyed a truly rich learning experience. The programme was varied, highly engaging, and extremely beneficial.”

With Parliament just across the road from the National Library, it’s easy for school groups to experience both institutions in a day. Students can stand in the room where the Legislative Council passed the Bill that gave New Zealand women the vote in 1893 and then experience the petition up close at He Tohu.

Parliament and National Library educators are planning a collaborative programme that focuses on our constitutional arrangements.

“New Zealand is one of only three countries in the world without a full and entrenched written constitution. We want young people to have the knowledge they need to confidently discuss our distinctive constitutional arrangements, including understanding the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi,” says Kate.

Archives New Zealand

The new exhibition involves a partnership between Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand, both of which fall under the auspices of the Department of Internal Affairs. While the National Library will house the new exhibition, the documents remain the statutory responsibility of Archives New Zealand and the Chief Archivist, Marilyn Little.


David Adams heads a team of conservators and preservation technicians. His role is to ensure the exhibition and ongoing monitoring of the documents meets the Chief Archivist’s statutory responsibilities.

David says the exhibition is significant for generations of New Zealanders as these documents “have such symbolism to us as a people.”

“There is a tension between providing a visitor experience and preserving our precious documents for future generations,” he says.

The specialist conservators will ensure the exhibition provides safe and secure conditions for these precious taonga, while making them accessible to all New Zealanders to allow them to connect with our unique history.

Researching suffragists

Ella Thorpe, a year 11 student at Wellington Girls’ College, has joined a wider team of people contributing to the exhibition by researching 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition signatories for He Tohu.

She joins a number of professional researchers and archivists who are preparing short biographies of signatories in one of the exhibition’s interactive features.

“These women took part in an event that changed New Zealand forever, but lived very normal lives for their time."

“Comparing their lives with women in New Zealand today has been interesting. For example, it might not be common to have six children today but in the time of the suffragists, women would often have even more than six!"

“I get a real buzz when I find new information about the signatories. It’s amazing to be able to get information about people who were born more than a century ago just by going online,” says Ella.

Kate Potter notes that learning about the past isn’t always easy or comfortable.

“Many New Zealanders are yet to confront the reality of our history, including the impacts of colonisation and the ways that deeply-held beliefs about race and gender influence how we relate to one another,” she says.

“We’re still figuring out what true partnership between tangata whenua and tangata tiriti means; gender equality has not yet been achieved."

“Maturing as a society involves taking a good hard look at where we have come from and owning the parts of our history that are painful and unjust, as well celebrating the parts that are positive and inspiring. By doing so, we can find new ways to work together to confront challenges faced by our communities and by our country.”

He Tohu is more than just learning about the past. The exhibition’s focus on 10- to 15-year-olds acknowledges the important role young people will play in shaping our future. The exhibition presents an opportunity for young New Zealanders to reflect on Aotearoa New Zealand society as it is today, where we are heading, and the contributions they can make as citizens and change-makers.

You can find more information on the Department of Internal Affairs website(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:16 pm, 7 November 2016

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