Raising the flag issue

Raising the ‘United Tribes of New Zealand’ flag in Devonport has also raised some interesting issues recently. The flag was displayed outside Depot Artspace to celebrate the opening of the He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga exhibition. However the sites chosen to attach the flags to, stirred controversy with some members of the local public who complained the flag was ‘racist’ and requested that the flags be removed. After these requests and some investigation by the Auckland City Council it was noted the power pole and parking sign pole that the flags were lashed to (after first being attached to bamboo) were council property and their removal was officially requested.

The United Tribes flags on display outside of Depot Artspace

The United Tribes flags on display outside of Depot Artspace

The flags are still being proudly displayed at the Depot Artspace attached over the entranceway. Local board member Chris Darby and others have been quick to point out that the flags were minimally intrusive when compared to other unapproved public ‘art’ installations in the area which also never sought council approval. Creative Director of Depot Artspace Linda Blincko talked to Māori television (who also covered the exhibition opening) about reactions to the flags that she had experienced and about the exhibition on Thursday (see here for the news article).


Heiwari Johnson and Pio Jacobs (Kaumatua) at the exhibition opening last Tuesday


There was a great turn out for the opening of the exhibition

The exhibition He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga  opened in the Vernacular Lounge last Tuesday with a powhiri lead by Kaumatua Pio Jacobs. The works on display were created created in response to Te W’akaputanga Mai O Te Rangatiratanga (also known as the Māori Declaration of Independence), signed by Ngapuhi chiefs in 1835 and its context in Aotearoa today by artists with affiliations with the Hokianga. Although the 12 artists had not discussed the works they were producing individually for the exhibition, as a collection they may be viewed as a “unified voice” commented the exhibition’s curator Heiwari Johnson. He also noted his desire for viewers of the exhibition to question “what does sovereignty mean to us as Māori in this contemporary context today?” when interviewed interview for Māori television (you can watch the interview here).

heather randerson

Artwork by Heather Randerson from the exhibition featuring the United Tribes flag.

The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand is a significant reference in the exhibition and was included as a symbolic motif in many of the artists work. It was originally selected by 25 chiefs from the far north of Aotearoa New Zealand and is recognised by many as the symbol of the Declaration of Māori Independence which was signed in 1835 pre-dating the Treaty of Waitangi. John-Key-flags-PHOTOSPORT

The flag issue has been a hot topic again recently with Prime minister John Key suggesting a referendum for changing the flag during the elections in September. Many however have questioned his intentions in revisiting the issue, suggesting that it distracts from more serious issues of consideration in during the lead up to the election. The New Zealand Herald has a poll running through it’s online site as to what New Zealander’s think about voting to change the flag which you can see here.

The exhibition continues until March 31.

Thanks to the Hokianga Māori artists Facebook page for images.