Mercier returns from New Zealand with stories, new projects

03.07.2011 Dean Rhodes Culture

From Jan. 31 through Feb. 12, Tribal member and Language and Cultural Specialist Bobby Mercier returned to the Maori's homeland in New Zealand for the second year in a row.

He continued developing already close relationships that since 2008 have grown closer with indigenous peoples as far as halfway around the world and as close as Oregon and Washington.

Mercier joined members from the Coquille and Suquamish Tribes in the Pacific Northwest as well as Dutch representatives during the Maoris' traditional Waitangi Days celebrations. Waitangi Days have features in common with Grand Ronde canoe journeys, as they spent "a couple days" on the water.

In Maori longhouses at night, Mercier witnessed and participated in protocols that are a traditional part of Waitangi Days celebrations.

But more was afoot this year.

"We're working on a project," he said, "a carving cultural exchange" that could be funded through the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem. The work of recent weeks is in preparation for a grant deadline almost a year away on Jan. 1, 2012, said Mercier.

The grant could "bring their carvers and some youth here, and send our carvers and some youth over there to learn how to carve in their style," said Mercier.

"This is a way for us to get more youth involved in a carving culture."

In addition, the grant could fund a canoe exchange, in which Maoris and Grand Ronde Tribal members would ship each other locally carved canoes for use in events half a world away like those of recent weeks.

"Revitalizing canoe life," is how Mercier puts it.

While there, Mercier was offered the distinctly high honor of helping to carve a new Maori longhouse, and, beyond that, carve a panel depicting Grand Ronde culture to hang in the longhouse.

"It's a pretty big deal," said Mercier.

The longhouse is the dream of Maori master carver Hector Busby, said Mercier. Busby now is in his 70s and working to complete the project while his abilities hold out.

Mercier traveled nine hours to a place called Tuhoe, one of the last places where no treaties were ever signed between indigenous Maoris and the New Zealand government.

With evenings spent in conversation, Mercier noted that the people of Tuhoe "went through a lot of similar things that we went through: the government coming in and using force to make them move from their homelands, and the use of boarding schools that caused a loss of language and culture."

From there, Mercier traveled eight hours to Wellington for a night where he visited the Te Papa Museum. There, he met with Maori artist Darcey Nicholes, where discussions continued about the longhouse project.

Two Maori representatives are expected to visit Grand Ronde for the 2011 canoe journey, said Mercier.