Letters to Dargy
I e mailed you several days ago to express my concerns about your museum's presentation of New Zealand prehistory.
I objected, in particular, to your claims that a pou found on the Pouto peninsula in the early '90s was created by a pre-Maori 'Waitaha' civilisation. As my first e mail explained, the unanimous opinion of scholars of New Zealand's past is that the Waitaha was a South Island Maori tribe which was assimilated centuries ago into first the Ngati Mamoe and then the Kai Tahu peoples. The claim that the Waitaha established a massive, technologically advanced civilisation on New Zealand thousands of years before the coming of the ancestors of the Maori is put forward only by a New Age cult led by Barry Brailsford, a once-respected archaeologist whose turn towards mysticism and pseudo-history has been widely condemned by New Zealand's scholarly community.
I know that a number of people have e mailed Dargaville with complaints similar to mine in recent days. I hope that you consider these letters carefully. As well as the Kai Tahu descendant outraged at the misrepresentation of his ancestors, you have heard from the archaeologist annoyed at the denigration of his profession, a novelist upset by your inability to tell fact from fiction, and a number of other eloquent, distinctive voices.
I am still waiting for a reply from your institution. I recognise, of course, that the issues I and others have raised are serious, and may require serious consideration by the people responsible for the policies and practices of Dargaville museum. Nevertheless, I would have expected to have received some acknowledgement of my complaint by now. It is normal practice for institutions that serve the public to acknowledge a complaint soon after they receive it, and to say whether or not the complaint will be considered. As far as I know, no one else who has complained to you in recent days has received a reply, either.
While they wait for you to acknowledge their communciations, some of the critics of Dargaville museum have initiated a public discussion of your promotion of the Waitaha myth and your mistreatment of the Pouto pou. I published my first e mail to the museum on the Reading the Maps blog, and a number of readers of the site have posted the texts of their own e mails to the museum in the comments box underneath my blog post. The New Zealand Archaeological Association has placed a link to the published e mails on its website, so that its members can find out about the controversy. In the last couple of days, over five hundred people have viewed the post about Dargaville museum at Reading the Maps. Dargaville museum is mistaken if it thinks that it can avoid negative publicity by ignoring critical e mails.
I would like to add two supplementary points to the complaint I sent you at the beginning of the week. Over the past twenty-four hours I have received some information about the background of Patrick Ruka, the 'Waitaha kaumatua' who took part, according to the caption in your museum, in a ceremony to welcome the Pouto pou into your permanent collection in 1996.
As I suspected, Patrick, who also goes by the names Mac and Maki, is part of the New Age 'Nation of Waitaha' cult established by Barry Brailsford at the beginning of the nineties. Visiting the Nation of Waitaha's facebook page, I notice that the group claims to have lived in Egypt more than four thousand years ago, and to have reached New Zealand after travelling through the Middle East, Siberia, the Aleutian Islands, the Americas, and the Eastern Pacific.
In a 1997 interview, Ruka claimed to have supernatural powers, and suggested that he could trace his whakapapa back half a million years. I was especially surprised by the second claim, because I had been under the impression that the modern human species had been in existence for no longer than two hundred thousand years. Elsewhere in Ruka's interview, though, I learnt that the Waitaha originally voyaged to earth from a distant planet. In the caption accompanying the Pouto pou, your museum boasts that it is the only place in New Zealand where a Waitaha artefact is publically displayed. Perhaps you are also the only institution in the country to display the artefact of an extraterrestrial culture? I also wanted to make a comment about Noel Hilliam, the man who is, according to the staff member I spoke to on Sunday, responsible for the presentation and interpretation of the Pouto pou. Since I e mailed you at the beginning of the week I have learned that Hilliam - a man who has no training in archaeology, history, or any related discipline - is closely associated with, if not a member of, the One New Zealand Foundation, a right-wing, anti-Maori political party based in Northland, and the Celtic New Zealand circle, a group of conspiracy theorists and pseudo-historians run by a man named Martin Doutre.
Along with the philosopher Matthew Dentith, the archaeologist Edward Ashby, and the distinguised Kai Tahu writer Keri Hulme, I took part last year in a protracted debate with Martin Doutre at the online journal the Scoop Review of Books. In the course of this confrontation, which is preserved in the archive of the Scoop Review of Books, Doutre admitted to being a Holocaust denier, expressed admiration for the neo-Nazi historian David Irving, and claimed that the 9/11 attacks on the United States were an 'inside job', not the work of Osama bin Laden.
The Celtic New Zealand website which Doutre maintains is full of praise for Noel Hilliam. I thought that this passage, which is accompanied on the site by a photo of a pile of bones and skulls, was especially interesting:
[This photo shows] a new cache of bones found in the Kaipara District. The skeletons are being studied by Noel Hilliam, former Curator of the Dargaville Maritime Museum, and his team of researchers...[this is] one of many photos taken by Noel Hilliam of the very small stature people that he and a group of experts are secretly studying. Noel's attempts to undertake proper scientific investigation in behalf of the New Zealand public are being thwarted and blockaded by the PC establishment.
If what Doutre is saying in the quoted passage is correct, then his friend Noel Hilliam has been removing human remains from sites in the Kaipara region without the permission of the state or of the iwi which have mana whenua over the region. The New Zealand Historic Places Act of 1993 prohibits the unauthorised disturbance of grave sites, and provides for the punishment of grave looting by large fines or terms of imprisonment. Noel Hilliam may come to regret allowing the Celtic New Zealand website to boast about his 'secret' expeditions to Kaipara burial caves.
Noel Hilliam's lack of academic training, associations with outfits like the One New Zealand Foundation and the Celtic New Zealand circle, and apparent desecration of Maori burial sites make him totally unsuited to work with taonga like the Pouto pou.
I believe that the information I have provided about the bizarre claims of the Ruka whanau and the 'Nation of Waitaha' and the unsavoury associations and activities of Noel Hilliam reinforces the case that I and others have made against your promotion of the Waitaha myth and your mistreatment of the Pouto pou. I hope that you will acknowledge the complaints you have received from me and from other concerned parties in the very near future.