Creating art with substance

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Should mortuary waste be separated from the main treated effluent flow? Te Ao Māori News hears from Māori artist Christie Tawhai Patumaka who is raising awareness around the issue.

Currently, in Gisborne, mortuary waste is not separated from the city's wastewater system.

“Mortuary waste is processed like household waste and that goes out to sea. When you're embalming you're taking out all of the blood from somebody, and it goes out into the waste and goes out to sea so extremely tapu and amazingly horrific”, says Christie Tawhai Patumaka.

As Māori, she says that although mortuary waste is treated along with wastewater, it remains tapu, and she is drawing attention to it through her art.

“If nothing else it's to be aware that this is what is going out into our bay, this is what's in the sand what's in the water and it's such a tapu thing - can we do something about it? I want that conversation to really be pushed”, says Christie Tawhai Patumaka.

In 2016, GDC voted against investigating the removal of mortuary and funeral home waste from the city's wastewater stream for discharge to land. The artistic representations by Christie Tawhai Patuwaka reflect that decision.

Tawhai Patumaka says, “At that meeting councillors had iwi reports telling them how abhorrent this practice is, and those reports were just put to the side, and that's the biggest issue I had about the whole thing was the colonial filters are still standing.”

Tawhai Patumaka says it's not only relevant to Maori but also to the wider community.

“It's tapu, it's tapu. DNA, whakapapa, is all going out to the bay whether you're Māori or not, it's tapu. It's been three years since any real action has been taken with the council, even though the conversation is still going, there's no action”, says Tawhai Patumaka.

GDC has reported that they are once again exploring ways to remove mortuary waste from the city's wastewater stream.