Auckland Museum’s first Māori curator recognised at a museum medals ceremony

By Marena Mane

Chanel Clarke (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Waikato, Ngāti Porou) was the first Māori curator at Tāmaki Paenga Hira in 2000 and this week she was recognised for it.

This week, Tāmaki Paenga Hira hosted its museum medals ceremony recognising excellence and innovation in the study of cultural and natural heritage.

Clarke was awarded the Associate Emerita of Tāmaki Paenga Hira, which she says is a tribute to those that led the path for her.

“I think of Sir Hugh Kawharu, people like Henare Te Ua, some of our stalwarts. So that's humbling to be receiving an award, following in their footsteps, but I guess for me, it is an acknowledgement of the mahi that not only myself but others have done here which is often been kind of a lonely road to take.”

“I actually came to this museum, Auckland War Memorial Museum, and I got shown around by the curator at the time, assistant ethnologist Te Warena Taua and he showed me all of our taonga that was stored in here,” she says.

Real need for Māori kaitiaki

Clarke’s most memorable project at the Auckland Museum was the Te Awe Collection Project, a five-year long project that enriched, reorganised and improved the care of over 10,000 taonga Māori through Mātauranga Māori, a project that, she says, was very dear to her heart.

“It was also about making sure they were cared for properly and making sure that they were housed correctly.”

“That we were also recovering some of that knowledge that has been lost, the disconnect with our people.”

Clarke says there’s a real need for Māori kaitiaki in museums across the country and Tāmaki Paenga Hira offers scholarships to rangatahi wanting to pursue a career as a curator of Māori taonga.