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One unexpected joy of Matariki is what it tells us about social momentum, writes Moata Tamaira.

Matariki offers a surprising example of how popular movements gather momentum, which in turn is why I’m perversely hopeful when it comes to collective action on climate change.

When I was growing up as a Māori child in the ’70s and ’80s in suburban Christchurch, I had no knowledge of Matariki. None of my teachers or my immediate family did either. Neither as a word nor a concept.

I took Introduction to Māori Culture 101 in my first year at the University of Canterbury in 1993. As far as I recall, Matariki was not covered.

But by the early 2000s, I was working in public libraries and things were happening, emerging out of the sector’s commitment to celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori every year.

I think it was around 2003 or so that the library started celebrating Matariki as “Māori New Year”. We produced posters and put up displays of the few books about Māori astronomy, tātai arorangi, and maramataka that we had.

It was very low key, and probably not many people noticed at first – but it quickly grew into being a regular annual thing, and we included programming such as basic raranga classes or waiata performances. Before long, we were adding books about Matariki to the library collection as they were published. Just a few, initially.

And slowly, you noticed other organisations getting on board. Local preschools wanting to attend Matariki-themed storytime sessions. The occasional example of Matariki messaging from businesses. Broadcasters mentioning Matariki. It still wasn’t mainstream, but you could almost feel the rising of the wave, that all this was going somewhere. The momentum was building.

From there, it just grew and grew, one year after the next, with more and more people incorporating some acknowledgment of Matariki into their lives and work. And now, it’s a formal public holiday on our national calendar, being celebrated for the first time this year.

All this has happened in less than 20 years.

That’s on the wider social scale. At a more personal level, it’s the fact that I can name the nine stars of Matariki and even tell you what their responsibilities are. It’s that as I wrote this piece, my child, who’s eight, was singing the Matariki Macarena.

It’s the way he interrupted my writing to ask, “Do you know the story of the stars of Matariki?”, because he obviously wanted to tell me about it; so I asked him to tell me about it. He learned all this at school, not from me. But together, we share an understanding of something important and valuable that I didn’t even know about when I was his age.

This is actually a remarkable cultural shift, and one I could not have conceived of 20 years ago.

When I think of how we’ll face up to climate change, it feels very much to me like we’re at that rising wave part of the movement, maybe even a little further along. And if we all keep paddling like mad and stay the course, I wouldn’t be surprised if progress starts to happen really quickly.

Will it be enough, and soon enough? I don’t know. But look up at those stars, feel a small but significant part of things, and hold onto hope, eh?

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