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Matariki Festival Scaled Back

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Organizers of the Bay of Islands’ Matariki festival are disappointed as they announce that this year’s celebrations will be scaled back due to funding cuts.

The festival, which has been supported in the past by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage through the Matariki Ahunga Nui Fund, will not receive the usual funding.

Festival director Jackie Sanders expressed frustration, stating that the festival received no prior notification about the funding cut. “We sent emails and tried to contact them (the Ministry). Then last week, the funding page was quietly deleted,” Sanders said. For the past two years, the festival had received $100,000 annually, covering 60% of its budget.

The absence of this funding has forced the cancellation of one of the festival’s most popular events, the Te Tau Hou Māori light and waka spectacular. This event, held in Paihia, attracted over 5,000 attendees last year and featured a light show, waka, and fireworks, curated to a narrated story.

Sanders lamented the lack of communication, which she believes could have allowed the festival to seek alternative funding or sponsorship. “It is frustrating because people really look forward to it and we felt like we were starting a tradition,” she said. The event has also been a significant tourism boost for the region during the winter period.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage stated that organizations were notified on May 24 about the change in funding. This year, the Māori Development Ministry, Te Puni Kōkiri, will distribute grants for Matariki events. “Te Puni Kōkiri is currently working with communities to distribute Matariki funding. Funding for Matariki events is contestable and funding recipients vary year on year,” the ministry explained.

The Matariki Pēwhairangi Festival, which Sanders describes as uniquely Te Tai Tokerau, has been running for four years, even before Matariki became an official public holiday. In 2023, the festival’s events attracted more than 10,000 attendees.

Despite the funding challenges, Sanders remains proud of the festival planned for this year, which includes over 20 events and experiences for families. Among the highlights is the Matariki Dawn Cruise, where tohunga guide participants to witness the rising of Matariki and Puanga. “The events are enjoyed and appreciated by Māori and non-Māori. Those who do not know the traditions get to experience and learn,” Sanders noted.

The festival will commence on June 21 and run until July 14.

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