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Ownership, strategies and directions

For an increasing proportion of the ethnology collections, legal "ownership" of these cultural collections is now less important than the recognised moral and emotional "cultural" ownership exercised by some of the relevant ethnic communities.

Unfortunately much of the required documentation regarding Māori ownership and inheritance practises was not adequately recorded, leading to many unresolved situations. However, in the present and future ethnic climate and regardless of previous vague registration records, questions of ownership and caretakership will require better collection research and co-operative negotiation.

Collecting strategies must be pursued with an awareness of these moral issues. There are still some limited opportunities for old-fashioned intensive collecting trips in the Pacific islands, especially of objects made for daily use and sale. This sort of collecting is exemplified by recent well-documented collections of Vanuatu basketry and fibrework, and such opportunities should not be missed. There has been some commissioning of works from recognised craftwork practitioners, especially for particular items needed for displays but this has pitfalls and limitations.

Ethnological collections have more lasting cultural significance and historical value if they have been made by the people for their own use. To meet this requirement, passive collecting of items as they become available by purchase or presentation is the preferred norm. This gives complete control of quality and acceptability within a firm collection policy, provided adequate purchase funds are available. For more important cultural items, "collecting" is being replaced more frequently by negotiated co-operative caretaking, requiring careful documentation and the establishment of trusteeship protocols.

Contemporary Māori and Pacific art produced by named prominent artists is an increasingly important field for the Museum, but present policy is to limit this field and to concentrate Museum collecting to community-based works with a strong reference back to traditional forms.