Puawai Cairns

Puawai is a natural fit for our first tuakana interviewee as both Nina and Matariki met her during their time on placements and work contracts at Te Papa. For Matariki in particular she has been influential, Puawai was one of her dissertation interviewees. It has been refreshing to see contemporary Māori stories being told in the national museum and Puawai is one of the driving forces behind this. Ngā mihi e te tuakana.


In five words, describe your role in the sector.

Storyfinder, Storyselector, Storypusher, Storylistener, Storyconnector

What is it about the sector that you love?

Everyday I learn something new. Most of these are spectacularly fascinating. I love doing detective work and reconnecting mātauranga / Taonga with their source. 

What have been some challenges in your career?

Constantly debating for adequate representation of Māori stories that go beyond customary / traditional tropes. Which means making sure Pākehā and we as Māori don't theoretically Un-diversify ourselves. Our richness is in our complexity and contrariness. I'm deeply suspicious of all "Māori did this..." / "Māori did that" statements which homogenise our realities and the stories we find in museums about us. 

What challenges can you see moving forward?

Making sure we don't become too reverent of our material past that it becomes untouchable and scary for us. Working or being with Taonga can start to freak people out because they don't understand what they're seeing. Maintain respect but demystify through lots of different modes of engagement with taonga and stories. 

Exploring the ideal of complete shared authority and authorship with source communities in practical terms. Be brave as museum professionals and give up more control to communities as our editorial partners, not just as research sources. 

What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?

More voice. Share more voice. Be unafraid to shake things up with new ways of doing things. But make sure you're clever and have thought it through. Nothing more annoying than an agitator who is all about the shout but with no follow through. 

Listen. Write. Research. Listen. Challenge. Listen. 

What is your spirit animal? 

The tītiko.