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Otago Museum appoints new Curator Māori and Pouhere Kaupapa Māori

Otago Museum is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Gerard O’Regan to the roles of Curator and Pouhere Kaupapa Māori. Gerard has more than 30 years’ experience in heritage management through different museum, iwi and research staff positions, as well as contracting, committee roles, and community appointments.

He specialises in the management of wāhi tūpuna (ancestral places), taoka Māori collections, kōiwi tākata (human remains) issues, southern Māori archaeology, and New Zealand’s rock art heritage. With a PhD in Anthropology, Gerard is a qualified archaeologist knowledgeable in tikaka for working with Māori collections in museums and is an advocate for improved Indigenous archaeological practice and fieldwork.

He started working with taoka Māori as a trainee in the National Museum before it became Te Papa. At that time, he came to support the famous Te Māori exhibition when it was in Dunedin and first started his relationship with Otago Museum. Later, when studying archaeology at the University of Otago, he was a member of the iwi advisory group for the current Tāngata Whenua gallery. After another stint in Wellington as a collection manager for the taoka Māori, Gerard returned to Otago Museum as the Regional Museums’ Liaison Officer, travelling Otago and Southland to help local history societies and vintage machinery clubs with their museum projects. He then went on to become Kāi Tahu’s first Heritage Manager, so he is very well-versed in the iwi’s heritage policies and aspirations, and is looking forward to translating these into local and organisational planning for Museum practices and projects.

Gerard said of his appointment, “This role aligns well with my ambition to apply my research and professional background to new and exciting avenues for the revitalisation of taoka Māori within iwi and wider communities. I’ve been fortunate to have been directly involved in many different heritage initiatives that build and support a sense of kaitiakitaka (guardianship) from developing exhibitions and museum visitor experiences to tribal policy and strategy development. Strategising pragmatic pathways for improved heritage protections and community engagement is one of my key areas of interest.”

With the redevelopment of the Tāngata Whenua gallery at the forefront of the Museum’s five-year plan and master planning work, Dr O’Regan is looking forward to understanding and navigating the challenges and responsibilities this project presents, as well as invigorating the Museum’s taoka Māori research, and helping to strengthen its position in response to both traditional and emerging iwi heritage interests, issues, and opportunities.

Dr Ian Griffin, Otago Museum Director, comments, “Our long-term planning has a strong focus on embedding te ao and tikaka Māori into our practices, policies, and public spaces, and Dr O’Regan’s knowledge, experience, and connections will be a significant asset for the Museum’s future development.”

Robert Morris, Otago Museum Director, Collections, Research, Education and Design, says, “We had a very strong field of applicants and Dr O’Regan’s appointment is a real coup for us. Our outgoing Curator Māori, Rachel Wesley, has provided invaluable guidance and knowledge over the past four years, and, while she will be greatly missed here, we are very pleased to see her move into such a critical role at the Dunedin City Council.”

As with Rachel, Gerard has well-established networks across Otago, Murihiku, and other Kāi Tahu rūnaka that will help maintain a strong connection between the Museum and the community.

Gerard returns to Dunedin from the University of Auckland’s James Henare Māori Research Centre where he is a research fellow focused on advancing iwi capacity in wāhi tūpuna management and Māori rock art. He currently has a Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fast Start grant for ‘Initiating a Māori archaeology of threatened North Island rock art’, working with local kaitiaki to develop a better understanding of these important places. 

Gerard says, “My time in Auckland is probably most marked by a growing interest in rock art. Although I’d been involved in managing South Island rock art heritage, I’d never really researched it until I came to Auckland. When I did my Masters on southern rock paintings, I got bitten by the bug. I carried on to a PhD and now the Marsden project. It’s a huge privilege to work with the rock art treasures, engaging so closely with the pictures, the places they are painted and carved, and the people who care for them.”

While working and studying in Auckland, Gerard has maintained an active interest in southern kaupapa including several years on the Ngāi Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust and helping set up Te Ana, its Timaru visitor centre. One of his current projects is sorting the return from Australia of an archaeological collection from rock art sites in the Waitaki Gorge before they were flooded behind Benmore Dam. He also brings international experience and connections, especially in the interpretation and management of rock art heritage.

Dr O’Regan commences at the Museum on Tuesday 14 April and will be welcomed with a mihi whakatau, following which he will present a public kōrero. On his return to Dunedin after 17 years, Gerard will share his thoughts on what we now do – and don’t – know about Māori rock art.