Co-collecting climate change in Tokelau: Project IKA

Co-collecting climate change in Tokelau: Project IKA

Pacific curator Rachel Yates introduces a co-collecting project that took Te Papa to Tokelau’s three low-lying coral atolls in the South Pacific to document the effects of climate change.

Aerial view of a coastline with a small settlement
Aerial shot of Fakaofo, Tokelau, 2017. Photo by Andrew Matautia. Te Papa O.047897


The practice of museum collecting is constantly changing, and questions of authority are critical – the what, who, where, and why something is collected are ongoing.

For the NZ History and Pacific Cultures teams at Te Papa, co-collecting is a curatorial practice that has allowed us to work closely with our communities, and aims to enable them to have greater authority over the stories representing their lives and experiences. At its core, it works from the understanding that communities themselves know best how to tell their stories.

To date, we have acquired a number of taonga (collection objects) into the collection as a result of co-collecting initiatives. Te Papa has worked alongside Chamorro people in Guam, Tongan communities in Auckland, indigenous aloha shirt makers from Hawai‘i, and, most recently in 2017, communities in Tokelau.

Tokelau and representing climate change

Project IKA was a co-collecting project that took place on the three atolls of Atafu, Fakaofo, and Nukunonu in 2017.  Named ‘ika’, the Tokelau word for fish, it is also an acronym for the climate change themes explored: Innovation, Indigenous Knowledge, and Atoll life.

Te Papa acquired over 250 taonga from Project IKA. They include physical and digital taonga, revealing a myriad of local experiences, and efforts on the ground to tackle climate related challenges.

Aerial shot of the coast, large solar panels are on the land
Tokelau is one of the first places in the world to run almost entirely on renewable energy. Aerial short of Atafu, Tokelau, 2017. Photo by Andrew Matautia. Te Papa O.047909

In July 2017, I traveled with Paula Faiva (Climate Change Manager) to Tokelau to present the concept of co-collecting climate change. After rigorous discussion and negotiations, each taupulega (village council) agreed to recruit co-collectors for the project.

Presenting to taupulega, Atafu, Tokelau, 2017. Photo by and courtesy of Anna Bertram

Our co-collectors were Adeline Tehumu from Fakaofo, Atonio Tuia, Patrick Alofosio, and Ioakimi Senio from Nukunonu, and Le Naponita Lepaio, Siniva Kalolo, and Samaria Koropaga from Atafu.

A group of five men standing on a beach
Co-collector Atonio Tuia (centre) and Patrick Alofosio (far right) with others in Nukunonu, 2017. Photo by Kate Whitley. Te Papa

In September 2017, phase two ensued and our co-collectors made the trip from Tokelau to Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. This brought co-collectors together with key Te Papa staff for a week of workshops and talanoa (discussion).

There was copious talk about connection to culture, its preservation, and access for future generations. Throughout our shared time at the museum, a sense of urgency was felt by all. Talanoa sessions highlighted concerns of cultural loss accelerated by climate change.

Collecting digital

Co-collector Ioakimi Senio reflected that ‘lots of people come and take photos of atoll life, but we want to learn how to take photos of ourselves’.

Digital taonga was identified as both a valuable tool to both help document the geography of Tokelau, and an asset to help people engage with their stories.

From this suggestion, we secured the services of Sāmoan photographer Andrew Matautia, who met the group in Aotearoa New Zealand, and shared his knowledge about photography and visual design.

Our seven co-collectors went back to Tokelau thinking about how objects could tell their stories, but also how they could tell their stories through image.

A group of people sits facing a table with multiple taonga (objects) on it
The interdisciplinary team from Te Papa on follow up trip to Tokelau included Dean Peterson, Grace Hutton, Kate Whitey, Leon Perrie, Michael O’Neill and Sean Mallon. The Te Papa team in Nukunonu, Tokelau, 2017. Andrew sits third from the left. Photo by Kate Whitey. Te Papa
Child holds large thermos, he's standing under a building. Behind him is a water pump
Child infront of broken water filter, Fakaofo, Tokelau, 2017. Photo by Andrew Matautia. Te Papa O.047772

On Te Papa’s follow up trip to Tokelau a few months later, staff worked alongside co-collectors to purchase taonga and document stories for the national collections.

A woman holds a fishing net. Behind her is an empty washing line and several palm trees
Co-collector Siniva Kalolo holding fishing net, Atafu, Tokelau, Nov 2017, Tokelau, by Andrew Matautia. Te Papa (O.047818)

For the digital elements, Andrew followed the co-collector’s direction and took photos of sites and features they had pointed out as important. He had also taken a drone with him to capture a view from above.

These three clips were compiled together and edited by Te Papa using the raw drone footage collected by Andrew as part of Project IKA. They offer a perspective imperative to telling Tokelau’s climate change story.

Taonga from Project IKA can be located on the floor, as part of Te Taiao | Nature, or as part of the touring exhibition Faka-Tokelau: Living With Change.

Further reading: ‘A trip to remote Tokelau: Life a few metres above sea level’

Explore Tokelau on our website


  1. Hi, can you post one of these about how climate change is affecting Tokelau please??

    1. Author

      Malo ni, thanks for reading this blog. Some of the stories about climate change feature in Te Taiao, Level 4 at the museum, and we have also developed a touring photography show Faka-Tokelau: Living with change that includes images taken as part of this project. As part of this exhibition we highlighted adaptation in sea walls, vertical gardens and other innovations to help combat issues such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Can I also suggest searching our Tokelau content on YouTube and collections online, but also the Tokelau government’s website ( that includes a link to the document: Living with Change (LivC): An Integrated National Strategy for Enhancing the Resilience of Tokelau to Climate Change and Related Hazards, 2017-2030. Best, Rachel

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