Ashley Mackenzie-White

Tikanga and te reo Māori furnished Ashley with the bicultural perspective she brings to work with visual arts and museums, in Aotearoa and overseas.

Portrait of Ashley Mackenzie-White. Ashley has red hair and wears tortoise shell glasses.

I was originally studying design and part of our course explored kōwhaiwhai. We were asked to stand up and say who we were, emphasising place. I stood up and thought, I am from Dunedin, my river is the Clutha, but my mountain is Taranaki. I realised something was missing. Next thing I knew I’d left design school and enrolled in Māori Studies and Art History at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. This was a journey my family and I never saw coming.

During my studies I gained a deeper connection and understanding for this place. I think it is important that we all, as people of Aotearoa, learn about the place we call home. There is no better way to learn about people than to learn a language or tikanga (customs and traditions). Māori Studies made me stronger in my own identity as a woman of Irish and Scottish descent.

Above all it was the people I enjoyed most. People who do Māori Studies tend to be open-minded, willing to learn, brave, and generous. I enjoyed the critical evaluation of what’s going on in Aotearoa. It was also the people of Te Herenga Waka Marae that made a real difference to my studies, especially Matu Stevens, the kaumātua who welcomed me onto the marae, let me be who I am, and supported me however he could, unconditionally.

After doing Māori Studies and Art History I completed a Graduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies. Māori Studies allowed me to bring a bicultural perspective to the course, an aspect valued in the museum and heritage sector. This led to working at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and then to my role as educator at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. I used my degree almost every day in my role as educator: teaching in te reo, practising tikanga Māori, and working as a Treaty partner.

I now work in the UK sharing my experience of working in a bicultural environment with museums undertaking decolonisation processes. I used my passion for language revitalisation in Gaelic-speaking schools working for the National Library of Scotland and I still use te reo Māori and tikanga in my role with Contemporary HUM promoting Aotearoa ​​New ​​Zealand ​​visual arts​​ overseas.

Māori Studies changed my life. I met some of the most important people in my life and it helped me understand who I am as a Pākehā.

Update: Ashley is currently Engagement Manager at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and Research and Community Manager at Contemporary HUM.