19 Nov 2018

'I want to challenge how things are being done'

6:30 pm on 19 November 2018

The first ever recipient of the Cliff Whiting Memorial Scholarship, for students passionate about museums, says putting Māori and indigenous collections back into the hands of indigenous people is his life-long goal.

Cheryll Sotheran and Cliff Whiting Memorial scholarships.

Cheryll Sotheran and Cliff Whiting Memorial scholarships. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

At a ceremony in Wellington today, two inaugural scholarships honoring Te Papa's founding Kaihautū, Cliff Whiting, and former Chief Executive, Cheryll Sotheran, were awarded to Master of Museum and Heritage student, Ben Manukonga, and Laura Jamieson who is set to undertake a thesis on the relationship between digital and physical collections.

Under the mahau of Rongomaraeroa, one of Cliff Whiting's most famous works, Mr Manukonga acknowledged his legacy.

"Just to be even considered for this is an incredible honour and just knowing what his legacy is and being here in front of his greatest works, in my opinion, is incredibly humbling.

"I hope with my career and my practice that I'm able to really challenge things in the same way that he did. I want to challenge how things are being done and especially when it comes to Māori and indigenous collections and putting those stories back into indigenous hands. That's the most important thing for me."

Mr Manukonga, of Ngāti Ruanui and Te Ātiawa descent, moved to Wellington in 2007 to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Māori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. During his final year, he was afforded the opportunity to work as a Tour Host at Te Papa Tongarewa, where he discovered a passion for the heritage sector.

"I met this lovely Canadian couple and they had done a whole bunch of research before they came. When I brought them up to Mana Whenua, they started bombarding me with all these questions. I think they were like, we're gonna test this 19-year-old and see what he knows.

"I said, not only can I answer your questions, but I can show you a whole bunch of other things. I got into so much trouble because I ended up spending two hours with them. But being able to really connect with the taonga and connect them with the taonga was a really enriching experience, and I knew at that point this is the place I needed to be."

Laura Jamieson, the recipient of the Cheryll Sotheran Memorial Scholarship, said the award allowed her to undertake her MA thesis in Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University.

"It's such an honour to receive it and it means that I will actually be able to do my MA thesis, which I wouldn't have been able to without this scholarship. Dame Cheryll Sotheran was an amazing woman and it's really great to be able to celebrate her legacy and I hope my research will be able to do that in some ways too.

"I want to explore the relationship between digital collections and physical collections in a museum environment. So I'll look at a case study at a large institution like Te Papa Tongarewas and look at, from a collection management point of view, how we're currently dealing with those two types of collections and what similarities and difference exist."

The son of Cliff Whiting, Dean Whiting, said the legacy of his dad lived on for a new generation.

"It's a great foundation that they've created at Te Papa and to see that extend further into the future is wonderful, we're immensely proud.

"When Te Papa was in its development it was really about seeking things that hadn't been tried before in many ways. They challenged it and it wasn't easy and I think sometimes those challenges are worth fighting for and worth pushing hard on."