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Matariki magic: meet the businesses embracing New Zealand’s unique New Year

Matariki is the word on every New Zealander’s lips this winter. From Auckland Council’s three-week Matariki festival to Wellington managing to summon a whale into the harbour, naming it Matariki and having to postpone the first annual Matariki fireworks display because of it, people are starting to celebrate the Māori New Year more than ever before. Here's how several local businesses, including ANZ and Isthmus, are marking the occasion. 

Matariki celebrates the appearance of the Matariki, or Pleiades, constellation and is traditionally a time to remember the dead, celebrate new life and plant new crops.

Since the revival of Matariki in the early 21st century, a number of businesses and brands are choosing to observe the celebration as they would public holidays, with social media posts and celebratory images.

Few have gone as far as multidisciplinary design studio Isthmus which has had Matariki embedded in workplace culture as an additional ‘public holiday’ for several years. They call it Matariki Day, and want to use the Isthmus model as an example of how an extra public holiday can give people more time to catch up with friends and whānau. There have been annual calls for Matariki to become a genuine public holiday ever since the notion was blocked in Parliament in 2009.

On Matariki Day, Isthmus staff get the day off work and attend a dinner for all whānau in the evening. It is the company’s way of recognising and thanking all staff for their work, in front of their families.

Isthmus’s Matariki traditions began ten years ago when accounts manager Kaye Reihana organised a Matariki event as part of the company’s culture nights series for staff. Chief executive Ralph Johns says they quickly realised Matariki was an authentic and homegrown celebration.

“It resonated with what Isthmus is about: connecting people and culture. We invited staff for dinner at a director’s house and when we outgrew that we moved back to the studio where we now hold an event for the wider Isthmus family.”

Johns says while he hasn’t heard of other companies following in Isthmus’s footsteps yet, he believes the wider moves in New Zealand to celebrate Matariki makes more sense for New Zealanders than importing celebrations like Guy Fawkes.

“I am proud as a Wellingtonian that the Council has taken the lead by moving the fireworks events to Matariki, to celebrate something that is culturally relevant here. To me it’s all about resetting our priorities and connecting more closely with the seasons and the natural world. I think that’s good leadership.”

Spark launched its Matariki content a month ago with a video produced by Colenso BBDO. Entirely in te reo Māori, the video depicts a father telling his son the story of the Matariki constellations which are arranged using glow-in-the-dark stars on the roof of the bedroom.

Spark business manager - Māori Lisa Paraku says Spark wanted to share a video so they could successfully explain the story behind Matariki.

“An important aspect was ensuring that this was culturally sensitive and relevant, so we engaged the help of Dr Rangi Matamua for background. Customers and our communities have had a universally positive reaction to the video.”

Both actors, Scotty and Hawaiki Morrison, are fluent in te reo and Māori musician Montell Pinney provides the backing soundtrack.

Further to its online Matariki campaign, Spark set up internal all-inclusive Māori Group ‘Te Whānau o Kora’ in 2016, which currently has 70 members. It also celebrates Matariki with internal events, including a Matariki kōrero, performance and hangi in Wellington; a Māori art exhibition and hangi in Christchurch; and a hangi and a Māori Market Day in Auckland.

Paraku says Matariki is not the only Māori tradition Spark has started to include in its workplace culture, and there are plans to continue the trend.

“It would be wonderful to Matariki to be acknowledged in a fitting way by our people and organisations. Matariki has a sense of excitement for the future and respectful remembrance and is significant to us here in Aotearoa,” she says.

ANZ has celebrated Matariki for ten years and has become known for its Māori New Year campaigns ever since it started installing Matariki ATM surrounds in 2015. This year the bank shared a video of Tauranga-based ANZ staff member Lesleigh Ricardi talking about what Matariki means to her and how proud she is to be able to bring her whole self to work.

Ricardi is a member of ANZ’s Māori and Pasifika Staff Group and is actively involved in brainstorming ways to increase Māori cultural awareness within the bank.

With nearly 200 members in ANZ’s Māori and Pasifika Staff Group (MPI), cultural inclusion and celebration has become a big part of the bank’s workplace policies. Felicity Evans, ANZ general manager - talent and culture, says they are proud to celebrate not just Matariki but other Māori traditions.

“Over the years it has been wonderful to see the interest in te reo Māori from leaders within the bank. We hope to see the inclusion of te reo Māori continue to rise.”

Felicity Evans

MPI hosts annual Matariki dinners in Wellington and Auckland for all ANZ staff. The events include cultural performances, entertainment from staff and Māori-inspired food. Some branches also host cultural food days for Matariki, inviting staff members to contribute food from their own cultures.

Coco’s Cantina on K Rd got into the spirit of Matariki with a celebration dinner as part of Auckland’s Matariki Festival. The ticketed event on 9 July included a three-course Māori and Italian-inspired meal and guest speakers Pita Turei and Te Aroha Morehu sharing their stories of Matariki.

Damaris Coulter, who owns Coco’s along with sister Renee, says being Māori themselves and running Coco’s as a Māori dynamic business meant that it was natural to share Matariki celebrations in the restaurant. She has also recently completed a Māori business accelerator course which brought the idea front-of-mind.

“It felt that the stars were aligned in many ways for us (and not just the Māori New Year stars).  Renee and I have been navigating our way through some business changes and for us, Matariki this year marked the end of some heavy trench digging and the beginning of new growth.”

Coulter says it now feels intuitive to hold Matariki celebrations as a way of celebrating and connecting with the restaurants customers and whānau.

“By sharing our culture through stories, food and discussions, we are able to showcase how we apply our culture in everyday and our business. People who may not usually be in this environment have the opportunity to be part of an inclusive celebration.”

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