People from all over the world in Whangarei for opening of indigenous centre

Published 3rd November, 2016

Feet stomped on gravel and chants echoed during a rousing powhiri to welcome 22 United Nations delegates and indigenous people to Whangarei to mark the opening of the only indigenous centre in the Pacific.

The centre, based in Reyburn House Lane, is one of seven indigenous centres around the world and the only one in the Pacific.

The opening of the Pacific Indigenous and Local Knowledge Centre of Distinction yesterday afternoon involved representatives from 12 nations - including China, Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Tui Shortland, director of the centre - which is run under the He Puna Marama Trust - said this was one of only seven indigenous centres in the world and the only one in the Pacific.

She said it was about increasing the value placed on indigenous knowledge - like carving, weaving and traditional Maori medicine - to bring it up to the same level of importance as Western knowledge.

“We’ve all gathered here to discuss the health of our environment of the Pacific from our indigenous perspective. We have a mix of traditional knowledge experts and support people here who will assist us to put together the global report which will go to the United Nations to assist them to make good decisions,” she said.

She said representatives from the 12 nations would be attending a three-day workshop at the centre, which would run until Friday.

Ms Shortland said the centre would be a place to discuss issues, whether it was related to the environment or poverty, and come up with solutions to these problems using traditional knowledge.

“One project we did together for the Ministry for Primary Industries was bringing together traditional knowledge experts, using knowledge of rongoa, or traditional Maori medicine, to look at how to increase resilience to kauri dieback disease and improve the health of the forest,” she said.

Ghazali Ohorella, from Maluku - an island group in Indonesia - visited Whangarei for the first time. Mr Ohorella has been living in exile, in Europe, since he was 9 years old. He has dedicated his life to being an indigenous rights lawyer and influencing opinion at the UN.

He stood and spoke wearing jeans and sneakers because New Zealand Customs had confiscated his traditional wear, given to him by elders, because of the feathers on it.

“This is about people coming together from all over the world and sharing knowledge, about retaining traditional knowledge, all to be able to transfer it to our next generation,” he said.