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New Zealand's constitutional treasures to be more accessible

News: 3 March 2016

Internal Affairs Minister Hon Peter Dunne said planning is on track for the new constitutional exhibition to open at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington during early 2017.

A design has been selected for the new exhibition which will enable greater access to our three most important constitutional documents: the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the Northern Chiefs/He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni; the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi /Te Tiriti o Waitangi; and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

Mr Dunne said the new exhibition has three principal objectives.

“The exhibition has been driven by the need to ensure our fragile and priceless documentary heritage is preserved for future generations as well as improve access to the documents for all New Zealanders and visitors to New Zealand. It will enhance opportunities for sharing knowledge about the on-going constitutional and cultural significance of the documents, especially for those aged between 10 and 15 years old.”

The three documents need the highest level of conservation and each presents unique preservation challenges. The Declaration is written on three sides of two pieces of paper, the Treaty is made up of nine different documents – two on parchment (processed animal skin) and seven on paper, and the Women’s Suffrage Petition is more than 500 sheets of paper, all glued together to form one continuous 274 metre-long roll.

“The exhibition will greatly improve the public’s access to these national tāonga. They will be displayed in a physically larger space, using more modern conservation technology and educational tools, with extended opening hours to six days per week.

 “It will provide an on-site interpretative area and on-line learning experiences as well as opportunities for debate and reflection about how the three documents came to represent moments of pivotal historical significance in New Zealand’s development as a nation.

“There is much to celebrate about how we have progressed as a nation as a consequence of these documents, and also much for us all to keep talking about. This exhibition provides a focus for that to happen”, says Mr Dunne.

The exhibition has been developed in partnership with iwi Māori.

“I have worked closely with iwi leaders from throughout the country and Wellington manawhenua iwi leaders. A formal Māori Technical Advisory Group has provided valuable guidance for the development of the exhibition and a Women’s Suffrage Petition Advisory Group has also provided advice. “

Wellington-based company Story Inc has designed the exhibition, which will feature two distinct areas: a document room and an interpretive space. 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 groups, particularly young people and school tours.

The current display arrangements for the documents in the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand were developed more than 25 years ago and are no longer fit for purpose. The new exhibition is designed to be in place for at least another quarter of a century.

The project, including exhibition design and construction, has a budget of $6.7million over two years for capital spending.

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Background information about the Archive Exhibition Project

  • Each of the three documents is very fragile and presents unique preservation challenges. Archives New Zealand conservation staff have established management plans for each document to ensure long-term preservation in the new exhibition.
  • The primary responsibility for the management of the exhibition and ongoing care of the documents is a statutory requirement of the Chief Archivist under the Public Records Act 2005.
  • The Archive Exhibition Project is a Crown and iwi Māori partnership. The Minister of Internal Affairs is working with a group of iwi leaders from throughout the country as well as Wellington manawhenua leaders, and the Department of Internal Affairs has formed a Māori Technical Advisory Group to guide the exhibition from a Māori perspective.
  • In October 2015 iwi leaders visited Archives New Zealand to be briefed on the new exhibition design, also to view first-hand the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Declaration of Independence of the Northern Chiefs/ He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni. Iwi leaders were briefed by conservators about the work necessary to preserve the documents for at least 500 years.
  • In December 2015 the Minister of Internal Affairs spoke to more than 60 leaders at an Iwi Chairs Forum hui near Hokitika. The Forum was supportive of the exhibition kaupapa (principles and purpose).
  • Officials from the Department of Internal Affairs, including the Chief Archivist, are also working closely with the Waitangi National Trust, which administers the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. 
  • A formal advisory group on the Women’s Suffrage Petition has also been established to offer guidance and input. In addition there is support for the new exhibition from the Wellington City Council and heritage sector.
  • The project team has provided briefings on the exhibition to the Mayor of Wellington, to the CEO of Positively Wellington Tourism, and the Wellington Museums’ Trust. The Trust is working with the National Library public programmes team on civic education experiences connected to citizenship, culture and heritage for students and teachers.
  • Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has commented that “This exhibition adds to Wellington’s nationhood attractions for students, New Zealanders and visitors”.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Archive Exhibition Project?

It is a new permanent exhibition that will include three precious taonga:  the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the Northern Chiefs/He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni/, 1840 Treaty of Waitangi /Te Tiriti o Waitangi/ and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

The new exhibition is under development and will open in early 2017.

The taonga are currently at Archives New Zealand, in Wellington. The new exhibition will be located in the National Library of New Zealand building opposite Parliament, although the documents remain under the statutory care of Archives New Zealand.

Purpose of the new exhibition is to:

  • Preserve the taonga for future generations.  This exhibition will have a lifespan of 25 years, with the documents having a conservation period of 500+ years.
  • Provide improved access for all New Zealanders – hence the location in the more publicly visited National Library building, with its larger space and longer visitor hours.
  • Educate all New Zealanders (particularly 10 to 15 year olds) and visitors to our shores about the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and the other taonga for future generations.

The ongoing care of our national historical documents is a statutory responsibility of the Chief Archivist, under the Public Records Act 2005. The new exhibition will be managed by Archives New Zealand, with support from the National Library.

Why these taonga?

These are the documents that define us as a nation. He Whakaputanga represents hapū and iwi formally declaring themselves as an independent nation.

The Treaty of Waitangi is iwi Māori and the Crown forming a partnership.

The Women’s Suffrage Petition was the instrument that gained women the vote, paving the way for women to join the country’s Parliamentary process, making New Zealand the first self-governing nation in the world to do so.

Today, each of the three documents is fragile, in varying states of condition. Each presents a unique preservation challenge, and need the highest levels of conservation.

Archives New Zealand specialist conservators will ensure the exhibition provides safe and secure conditions for these precious taonga, yet make them accessible to all, to allow a connection to our unique history.

What is the role of Māori in developing this exhibition?

Te Tiriti is a partnership document between the Crown and Māori, and this project will reflect a partnership with Māori.

Partnership is important:

  • So Māori know the new exhibition has been developed appropriately to take into account Māori perspectives and values.
  • To ensure the exhibition reflects Māori historical accounts and stories appropriately.

The project’s Māori participation is multi-layered:

  • Treaty partners – Crown (Minister of Internal Affairs) and iwi leaders.
  • Māori Technical Advisory Group – experts with exhibition, design and narration skills.
  • Other participants – artist Cliff Whiting ONZ (advising the exhibition’s designer, Story Inc) and the project’s Principal Māori Advisor, Hinerangi Himiona.
  • Department of Internal Affairs subject matter experts guide the project design and content, including the Curator Māori and Field Conservator  (Alexander Turnbull Library) and Archives New Zealand Senior Advisor Iwi Development.

How will the new exhibition be different?

There will be a marked difference between the old display and new exhibition. The old display is limited by its physical space and facilities. The new exhibition will give an enhanced display of our taonga, also an interpretive and educational visitor experience, including an online dimension.

An important focus of the exhibition is to be an educational tool about the three taonga and their importance to New Zealand, which will also support curriculum discussion in our schools.

The exhibition will be supported by on-line content that can be accessed by visitors to the exhibition and by learners all over the country


Updated on 10th August 2016