07 August 2023

Kiriana Haze works with taonga tūturu, protected objects that whakapapa to te ao Māori and embody mana, tapu, and mauri.

Kiriana Haze, finalist in the Te Tohu mō te Kaiārahi Rangatahi o te Tau | Young Leader of the Year Award category, Te Hāpai Hapori | Spirit of Service Awards 2022.

For Kiriana Haze (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Mākino, Te Arawa), it's the complex and nuanced projects between Māori and the Crown that are the most rewarding.

And it's these interactions which have helped to develop her already strong Māori identity, for which she will always be grateful.

Kiriana is a Pou Tohu Mātua, Senior Adviser Taonga Tūturu at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Her role is about building strong relationships with iwi and hapū across the country so they can make the decisions that sit right for them about the care and conservation of their taonga. Which means reaching out, offering advice, assisting where needed, then ultimately stepping away.

“It's very much about letting go,” she says.

“After we've done all we’ve been asked to do– which is all we should be doing – we step away, which can be very emotional because you’ve built relationships with these whānau and hāpori. However, representing Manatū Taonga and being able to say, ‘this is yours, it's not ours', that is a very special thing.”

Luke Stenner (Manatū Taonga Senior Adviser Taonga Tūturu), Nadia Wesley Smith and Rachel Wesley (Ōtākou Marae) and Kiriana Haze (Manatū Taonga Senior Adviser Taonga Tūturu) at the Ngāi Tahu Repatriation Ceremony in March 2023. Photograph by Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Taonga tūturu are protected objects that whakapapa to te ao Māori and embody mana, tapu, and mauri. They can take many forms, from 800-year-old waka to early twentieth-century weaving.

Kiriana says a waka recently discovered in Taranaki is a good example.

The waka, thought to be more than 150 years old, was discovered in sediment in the Pātea River. It is believed the waka is from Kuranui Pā, hidden after local iwi were almost wiped out by land confiscation and violent imprisonment during the New Zealand wars.

“The uri of Kuranui Pā now have this tangible piece of history that their tīpuna built and used and cherished – it gives me goosebumps” says Kiriana.

Recently Manatū Taonga has devolved and decentralised the process for taonga tūturu, to ensure conservation projects can take place close to their discovery locations, and that they’re designed and decided by iwi, hapū and whānau.

Kiriana says that means taonga may not even be displayed at a museum or whare taonga.

Instead, if the taonga is connected to a wāhi tapu site, or if the decision to pursue museum standard conservation isn’t wanted, iwi and hapū may choose to re-bury or re-submerge the taonga, an indigenous method of conservation.

“If it's wood or flax then iwi might decide to simply return it to the whenua, to Papatūānuku. If that's where their tīpuna wanted to put it, they might tell us that perhaps it should remain there.”

Ngāi Tahu Repatriation Ceremony in March 2023. Photograph by Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Auckland War Memorial Museum.

In 2022, Kiriana was a finalist in the Spirit of Service Awards, which recognise public servants and initiatives that exemplify the spirit of service and demonstrate an outstanding commitment to New Zealand.

In her citation she was praised for working with grit, creativity, and integrity, placing the mana and aspirations of iwi and hapū at the centre of all she does.

Being a Māori public servant can be challenging, says Kiriana.

But she feels its “very important that people like me operate in spaces which the Public Service historically hasn't done a good job of.”

I always start with, 'what can I do to make sure my family, and my iwi and hapū are proud of me?’ and ‘do my decisions sit well with me, in my belly?’

“Am I doing what I can to bring about change, within the parameters of the government system? And keeping in mind that this is still a very old system where things take time to change.”

She says she has been fortunate to have a nurturing and inspiring support network of wāhine Māori at Manatū Taonga who are also respected in the arts, culture, and heritage sectors for their endeavours outside of the Public Service. Kiriana names Matariki Williams, Sinead Overbye, Nitika Erueti-Satish and Mahinaarangi Manuel at Manatū Taonga as examples of the high-calibre talent at Manatū Taonga.

Kiriana says the ultimate sign of success in her work is that iwi feel comfortable reaching out or coming back to Manatū Taonga.

“A big part of building trust is through relationships, and my role is to build strong relationships around the country so that they know I’m advocating for them all the way in Wellington.”

“For us, the value of the relationship is equal to the value of the taonga itself.”

Spirit of Service Awards 2023


This year's Te Hāpai Hapori | Spirit of Service Awards takes place on 16 August at Te Papa.

Check out our awards pages for more information about the awards and finalists.

Find out more