Benefits from clever initiative will be many for NZ, says Sir Ron Carter
It was with dismay that I read and watched the kneejerk reaction to the announcement of a Maori cultural pavilion being part of the Rugby World Cup activities. As a society I had thought we may have got beyond all of that.
I would invite people to look at the opportunity this project creates rather than fall into finding reasons why not.
From my own experience of hosting overseas guests I know visitors to this country always want to find out more about Maori culture. It would be the same for any of us if we visited Peru or Vanuatu or Greenland; we would want to know about that country's history, its people and how things are today.
So it is a mystery to me why Ngati Whatua o Orakei's well-thought-out plans to put in place a series of events and experiences focused on Maori culture, right on the waterfront in Auckland, during the Rugby World Cup, could draw criticism.
The design to my eye is great and its location will draw people to the waterfront which is a jewel of Auckland. Thousands flocked to the same area when another great sporting event was held in Auckland, the America's Cup. They got the location exactly right.
A waka-shaped building will stand out and I am sure become one of the most photographed features of the World Cup activities. Another photographer's favourite will be the giant tekoteko carved figures around Eden Park, also a Ngati Whatua initiative.
My understanding is the waka is able to be transported and reassembled anywhere in the world so it also has life after the World Cup. Once again that is good thinking.
The return on investment from this project and the good it will create for this country will be seen in economic activity, increased tourism over the long term and just the sheer interest and excitement of hosting a major world sports event. Haven't we had enough of tragedy? Why not embrace something positive. Waka Maori represents good value in my eyes.
For those thinking about Christchurch, I believe the best way to assist the people of Christchurch is to grow the New Zealand economy. I am convinced by making the Auckland events a huge success the economic outcome will benefit the whole country.
I feel fortunate that I have known people of Ngati Whatua for a long time and I am very impressed with how they conduct themselves and how they contribute to our city. While I don't know a lot of the detail about the project yet, apart from the design and materials being used, I do know some of the people involved and that reinforces my belief this project will come together well.
It is unfortunate that some people, without thinking or knowing, labelled this the plastic waka or the Tupperwaka when in fact the materials being used are all technologically sound. Rather than be disrespectful to Maori culture I would suggest the waka building is a pointer to the place Maori will take in our society in the coming decades. The thinking that has created what is called Waka Maori is innovative and has captured attention. It is Maori taking things into their own hands driven by the desire to proudly show the world their heritage and present-day life. They could have put up a tent to provide shelter but they have added some wow factor by building a venue in the shape of a waka. What could be better.
In 2011 Maori want to show the world their culture and want to do it in a way that visitors will remember and enjoy.
As a European New Zealander, that doesn't detract from my life, it only adds interest. I will be taking visitors to Waka Maori because - by the fact of being a New Zealander - Maori culture is infused in what and who I am, and that is fine by me.
Sir Ron Carter is patron of the Committee For Auckland.