Ko Matariki kei runga, ko te tohu tēnā o te tau!

Matariki is up; that’s the sign of the year!

Aotearoa New Zealand is today celebrating its first indigenous national public holiday – Matariki. 

The rising of Matariki, the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades, signifies for many Māori the start of the new year. It is a time for rest and reflection on the year that has been and planning for the future. Matariki is grounded in a connection to nature and awareness of planetary cycles which were critical within Mātauranga Māori for acknowledging the seasons, navigation and planting. Rest, reflection and time off from work is crucial for individual and collective wellbeing.

In 2020, after growing interest and a revival in Matariki commemorations over the previous decades, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Matariki would become Aotearoa’s eleventh national public holiday. Unlike many of New Zealand’s other holidays grounded in Western culture like Christmas and Easter, Matariki is significant because it is the first holiday grounded in Māori culture, acknowledging our place as a South pacific country. It’s a sign of New Zealand’s growing unique national identity.

It’s another example how te ao Māori (the knowledge and traditions of Māori culture) is enriching New Zealand society. Increasingly Māori tikanga (cultural rules and principles) are being incorporated and recognised in the New Zealand legal system and inspiring approaches like legal personhood for nature features such as the Whanganui River and conservation tools. Around the world people and countries are turning to indigenous knowledge to tackle challenges like climate change.

This weekend, communities across Aotearoa have come together to view the stars, share food and remember the deceased. Today as I rest and reflect on the past and how New Zealand is changing from initiatives like Wellbeing Budgets to incorporation of Māori knowledge I take optimism that we can build on these to grow an economy that puts wellbeing at its heart. By genuinely embracing New Zealand’s foundational document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Aotearoa has a unique opportunity to reframe what’s important – revisioning a focus on money and economic growth into kotahitanga, whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga.

Happy Matariki everyone – mānawatia a Matariki.

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