Flags fly for awareness

00:28, Mar 13 2014
Dawn Harris
INDEPENDENCE: Curator Dawn Harris speaks about the significance of 1835 Declaration of Independence for Northland Maori at Black Space Gallery at Kohukohu. The show, He W'akaputanga Mai o te Rangatiratanga - a Proclamation, has now moved to Auckland, the farthest afield the Hokianga Maori Artists have shown as a collective.

A flap over the flags at a Hokianga Maori Artists exhibition in Auckland has created a successful show and galvanised the community, the gallery's creative director says.

Depot Artspace's Linda Blincko says that while Auckland City Council ordered the community gallery to remove the flag of the United Tribes from council property, the flags are still flying, now attached to the gallery itself.

The flags became a focus after Ms Blincko was told "these flags are political and we shouldn't have this issue raised in Devonport."

Despite some initial complaints, which some have labelled a racist reaction, overall the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, she says. 

The exhibition, entitled He W'akaputanga Mai o te Rangatiratanga - a Proclamation, is 12 Hokianga Maori artists' response to the Declaration of Independence of 1835.

"Since the complaints, it's really galvanised the community and people have been supporting the exhibition hugely," she says.


At a subsequent opening at the Depot Artspace, while the Hokianga Maori Artists show was still on, she says visitors came from Opononi and Kerikeri to South Auckland "to voice their support for the show. It's been remarkable. Absolutely remarkable."

Phone calls from people whose relatives were signatories to the Declaration of Independence and from those as far as the South Island and Sydney to support the exhibition and to learn more about it have been fielded by the gallery and the show's curator, Dawn Harris.

"Whatever racial tension may have existed was very quickly quelled by the extent of support that has been voiced and exhibited through people coming into the Depot for the exhibition, both Maori and Pakeha. It's been amazing," Ms Blincko says.

Ms Harris says she was expecting a reaction to the flags, but that the intent of the show was to raise awareness of the history of Northland Maori.

She doesn't see the flag as a political statement."People who are not from Northland don't actually know what that flag means," she says.

"They've seen it at Waitangi Day, they've seen it at places where there's been protesting, so they naturally associate it with that event. But the flag itself has more meaning to it than that."

The gallery has succeeded in bringing the whole history of the flag and how Northland Maori were operating in those days to the fore, Ms Harris says.

"It's actually Northland Maori, who were entrepreneurs at the time, who were proactive about getting their trade to other countries.

"The exhibition first showed in Kohukohu's Blackspace Gallery to clash with the timing of Waitangi Day in February and now Ms Blincko says its Auckland run is a counterpoint to Prime Minister John Key's raising of the issue of New Zealand's flag.

"People are saying we love this flag - it's so meaningful," she says.And she says the initially negative publicity has drawn interest and support."They love the exhibition, they love the flag, they support the issue."

The flag of the United Tribes

Northland tribes needed a flag for trading purposes in the early 1800s.

British navigation laws required ships entering ports to trade to fly a flag and after a ship and its contents were seized in Sydney, Northland Maori decided to do take action.

The United Tribes' flag was created in 1834, just prior to the signing of the 1835 Declaration of Independence, which many in the north feel supersedes the Treaty of Waitangi.

The 1835 Declaration of Independence

James Busby, the official British Resident in New Zealand, called a meeting at Waitangi and he and 34 Northland chiefs signed the declaration, asserting their sovereignty over New Zealand. 

By 1839, 52 chiefs had signed the declaration. 

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