‘Like a planet with a never-ending orbit’: Top highlights from Te Aratini and its enduring legacy

For the first time at a World Expo, the light was shone on Indigenous voices, knowledge systems and ancestral wisdom through Te Aratini ‘Festival of Indigenous and Tribal Ideas’, curated by Māori leaders in partnership with the New Zealand Government and collaborating nations.

Held across three days (17-19 November) at Expo 2020’s Dubai Exhibition Centre, this special festival united Indigenous peoples from all corners of the world in a movement toward greater inclusion and widespread acceptance of their ways of knowing and being, centered around themes of commerce, culture, community and conservation.

Alongside Aotearoa New Zealand, participants from Australia, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, Paraguay, and Panama took to the stage with cultural performances, captivating panel discussions and impactful talks that have set the legacy of Te Aratini in motion.

In celebration of this world-first festival, here are some of the top highlights from the three days at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The start of something special

Te Aratini began with a powerful Māori ritual with Kahurangi Māori Dance Company, setting the intention for the three days to come. Alongside welcome speeches by Ngahiwi Tomoana, Chair of Te Pou Tahua National Iwi Chairs Forum and New Zealand at Expo’s Commissioner-General Clayton Kimpton, we had the honour of listening to opening addresses from Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Culture and Youth, and Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Aotearoa New Zealand and co-host of Te Aratini.

At the heart of Te Aratini was its potential to act as a foundation to establish new relationships and nurture existing ones. As the first Indigenous woman to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta gave participants the opportunity to share their ideas directly with her, which emphasised that relationships are essential to supporting and growing the world’s Indigenous economies.

Te Aratini also affirmed existing relationships and sparked new commercial opportunities in the United Arab Emirates for Indigenous companies as well as identified broader areas of cooperation across policy areas such as language, climate, education, business, digital and tech and impact investment.

An address by the United Nations

There were more than 50 Indigenous speakers at Te Aratini including Anne Nuorgam, the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. During her opening address on day two, Anne acknowledged the importance of Te Aratini and Aotearoa New Zealand’s Indigenous elevation approach as an example of best practice.

Diverse cultural performances

Song and dance remain one of the integral ways of telling stories within the world’s Indigenous communities and Te Aratini was no different. The diverse range of performers included: Aotearoa’s New Zealand’s Kahurangi Māori Dance Company, Malaysia’s Alena Murang and JKKN Borneo Dance Group, Canada’s Digging Roots and Zoey Roy, Paraguay’s Bianca Orqueda, and United States’ Niigan Sunray.

I am the river, the river is me

The New Zealand Pavilion’s visitor experience has been designed in partnership with the tribes and subtribes of the Whanganui River, Te Awa Tupua. At its heart is the story of how the river is recognized as a living and indivisible whole and became the first in the world to gain legal personhood.

Sheena Maru, the new Chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, spoke at Te Aratini to share the significance of this legislation and the lengthy journey in achieving it.

“Someone asked if I would be prepared for today. My answer is that we have been prepared for 200 years. For centuries we have prepared for this, and for centuries more we will remain.”

An enduring legacy

The closing ceremony of Te Aratini marked the beginning of what is set to be a continuous voyage towards acceptance of the solutions Indigenous peoples are bringing to the world.

To recognise this, Ngahiwi Tomoana and Stefano Acbano, representing the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), partook in a taonga (prized object) handover ceremony during which a pounamu (greenstone) carved with the Te Aratini logo was presented to the BIE.

“Is Te Aratini like a shooting star that will light up and fade into the darkness? Or is it a planet with a never-ending orbit of this Earth? This is not a one shot, one stab in the dark for me. We have to build on this and not let it slip away.”
“To our Emirati hosts who have graciously given us the resources to connect and reradiate our relationships – thank you. It has been a safe place to dream.”

- Ngahiwi Tomoana Chair of Te Pou Tahua, National Iwi Chairs Forum