‘The G-Force!’

 |   Bob Glancy

Growth and guardianship. Those were the words Te Aroha Morehu, General Manager of Culture at Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, underscored in his welcome address to Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO.

‘We face two challenges,’ Te Aroha explained to Satya. ‘The dilemma of growth. And there’s another G-force – the G of Guardianship. If it’s not sustainable – it’s not strategic.’

These words inspired Satya to share Te Aroha’s speech at Microsoft’s annual conference, Ready, reflecting that this philosophy runs like a current through Microsoft. That in everything we do, we strive to strike a balance where the old – guardianship – and the new – growth – weave into something strong and sustainable.

And if anyone personifies the delicate balance of old and new, it is Te Aroha Morehu. A man with great presence and ceaseless energy, Te Aroha spans two worlds. He has an impressive career as a technology consultant, yet is also embedded in his culture, fluent in Māori, and a powerful advocate for learning from the past.

Te Aroha’s frame of reference reflects this breadth. With one foot rooted in the past as the other strides towards the future, Te Aroha flits from Māori proverbs, to citing Shakespeare, before racing into a deep discussion about A.I. and Blockchain. When asked to define his role as GM of Culture and Identity at Ngāti Whātua, he replies: ‘We’re in the business of filling souls, filling hearts, filling stomachs. We’re global guardians. The current world doesn’t like to discuss our tragedy. Maybe we’re a bit embarrassed by it. But Shakespeare taught us the human condition needs tragedy to understand what prosperity is. We’ve had hundreds of years of tragedy, now is our time to prosper.’

Since Satya’s visit to New Zealand, Te Aroha, Microsoft and local partner Datacom, have woven the stories of his tribe, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, into cutting-edge HoloLens technology, blending old and new, growth and guardianship. For centuries to come these stories can now be preserved, enjoyed and shared. Today the Kāhu Pōkere, the eagle atop the pou that soars above the entrance of the Marae, has been brought to life in three-dimensional interactive detail using HoloLens.


NewsHub reports on Microsoft’s work with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei

The experience, co-designed by Datacom and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, focused on inspiring Maori to tell their stories through a new immersive and interactive medium. Datacom used its rapid prototyping process to create the first 3D version of the eagle in two weeks, then further developed the prototype to get the narrative right and presented it to elders at the Marae. The eagle was brought to life through gamification to educate the user about the history of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. One of the elders was so touched by the prototype that she thanked the team for bringing to life a legendary story that her grandmother used to tell her.

And that Kāhū Pōkere, is only the start of a much longer journey. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is now working with Datacom and the HoloLens team to create a full narrative, a storytelling platform that allows their ancestors to rise up and speak, as well as completing a virtual reality iteration of the Ancestral house that stands on the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Marae (the sacred grounds of the tribe). Creating an avatar for various members of the tribe is the ultimate goal. By doing so, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei can go on teaching forever, their words, energy and guardianship surpassing their mortal form. 

‘We’re doing amazing work with Microsoft, Datacom, Method, Reality Virtual and Imersia to share the story of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei,’ explains Te Aroha. ‘This is truly the intersection where ancient myths meet cutting-edge innovation, preserving stories for new generations to enjoy. It is important to remember: we are our stories.’

Owaaku the Eagle interacts on the HoloLens

As well as the work with HoloLens, Te Aroha is focused on the technological development of his iwi, building a network to connect his people and allow them to share information. Or as Te Aroha puts it: ‘We’re the most connected Marae in New Zealand. We have a 1Gbps fibre circuit into the whare, and it’s scalable up to 10Gbps. That’s huge!’

Te Aroha smiles and jokes, ‘My broadband’s bigger than yours, bro! But seriously, I’m using it to trade broadband for data. I offer it to people to use, but in return I want them to respond to a short survey every week, just three questions about their lives, which I feed back into our business strategy.’

When asked what drives him, Te Aroha explains that the Ngāti Whātua Trust is driven by the Whakataukī, a proverb that inspires the tribe: “Ka rere arorangi te Kāhu Pōkere ki nga taumata tiketike”. This translates as, “To soar like the Kāhu Pōkere to the highest heavens,” which at its core is a prescription for consistent excellence.

And here Te Aroha shifts seamlessly from detailing a beautiful Māori proverb to discussing Microsoft Sharepoint. ‘That’s why we need to capture all our data into a MSSQL format, leveraging Microsoft Suite and Sharepoint. Ultimately it boils down to one thing: a strategy to establish digital sovereignty. We’re a part of the wider Ngāti Whātua tribe, stretching like a belt from the western shores to the eastern shores of and around Auckland. We share a history dating back to the beginnings of human Māori migration from Hawaiki. And our ancient philosophy remains applicable. Growth must go hand-in-hand with guardianship – if it’s not sustainable, it’s not strategic. That’s the G-Force. Remember that and you will succeed. Mā te mauri koe e kawe!’

When asked what the final phrase means, Te Aroha laughs and replies, ‘It’s Māori for may the force be with you!


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