Hope: Collaboration and the Preservation of Moriori Culture

“The case study research has given us hope too in other ways-hope that our trees and living tree carvings can be saved; and hope that the process of engagement and collective decision making is the best course of action.” (Moriori Cultural Database, Simon Fraser University).

Chatham Islands Map

Map of the Chatham Islands, New Zealand

By: Elizabeth Carmichael and James Saunders

The Moriori are an indigenous group located on the Chatham Islands of New Zealand. Their cultural history, heritage, and language have not been passed down since the 1830s except through limited archives and memories of elder community members. In response to this problem, co-developers: Susan Thorpe, Maui Soloman and elder, Tom Lanauze, created a project in conjunction with Simon Fraser University in order to preserve Moriori material culture and to actively help teach the community about their heritage.

Their objectives include: establishing a Moriori knowledge database to preserve their traditions, ensuring the protection of their intellectual property, developing the Hokotehi Knowledge Recording Mentorship Programme (HKRMP) to help encourage participation in recording Moriori practices, exploring options for land use and resource management, and helping to educate modern day Moriori on their cultural heritage.

The project has taken on a community based approach that involves the cooperation and consultation with researchers and Moriori elders. This bi-cultural approach blends together archaeological practice and methods with elder knowledge. In addition, a unique approach taken by this project is its emphasis on the digitization of recording information and Moriori artefacts. This approach has been particularly important in overcoming barriers found in the isolated community while at the same time being cost effective and inclusive. Additionally, this approach has influenced the methodology of the project including the use of video cameras to record fieldwork which allows for high levels of participation and community inclusiveness. Digital workshops have been developed to educate participants on this method to encourage further participation and collaboration between community members and researchers. This method is particularly important because it brings Moriori values to solve both archaeological problems with artefact and site preservation, and ecological challenges such as protecting rakau momori (carved living trees) in a sacred grove. This project also ensures that Moriori artefacts are stored in Te Papa, a museum curated in part by collection managers and conservators in collaboration with the Moriori community. Thus, this initiative makes the artefacts more accessible to the community.

Moriori Database

Moriori descendant with a rakau momori (photo from IPinCH).

The project values this collaborative element because they want to share and preserve the cultural heritage of the Moriori people. This will allow them to gain a better insight into their culture and help to distinguish the Moriori from the Maori in academic settings. The aspiration of this project is to teach the modern generation about their cultural heritage and increase their knowledge of their culture. This project is significant because it shows how it is possible and valuable to work with the community, and that collaboration between researchers and community members can be successful. It also highlights an important trend in the effectiveness of digitizing archaeology in order to make it more accessible and to help with preservation.

In relation to other archaeological practices, this project is different because it did not start with research questions.  Instead, the research questions were made along the way. In comparison to other archaeologically practices, it was fairly easy to get the community involved because this archaeological work was aligned with the goals of the community. The project also puts the Moriori in control of the artefacts instead of the state. Additionally, the project does their archaeological work ethically by following a mandatory protocol set forth by Simon Fraser University which made use of required consent forms. These forms notified each interviewee the objectives of the project and ensured the willing participation of community members. The rights and dignity of these participants were particularly important to the developers of the project. In conclusion, this case study demonstrates the effectiveness and validity of community based research based upon collaboration and mutual respect.

For more information on the project please visit: 



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