Deepening Relationships: Isthmus Matariki Day.

Diversity Agenda member and Accord signatory, Isthmus’ purpose is to advance the relationships between land, people and culture – writes CEO Ralph Johns, as the business brings in Matariki Day – an annual holiday and special celebration for staff.

Our purpose at Isthmus is to advance the relationships between land, people and culture. We do this not only through our design work but also through how we lead and manage our studio. We first acknowledged Matariki in 2008 with a small after-work gathering with take-away hangi. It has grown in subsequent years to become a key feature of our studio culture.

We deepened our collective engagement with mātauranga māori in 2010 when we introduced Matariki Day, an extra day of annual leave for all staff, with a dinner hosted in the studio for the whole team and their whanau. 

We embedded Matariki as an additional ‘public holiday’ because we believe that Aotearoa should celebrate its own authentic events and seasons. We joined the call for Matariki to become an official holiday, a call which is becoming louder each year. As the collective momentum builds, so does our own; this year we are embracing Matariki more fully than ever, with a ‘festival’ of hikoi, talks and events that connect us with community, culture and place, as well as the day of itself. 

The Matariki day dinner for the Isthmus team and their families.

There is an ancient logic in marking the transition from one year to the next by the maximum tilt of the earth, our furthest distance from the sun. As the planet tips away from the sun during mid-winter in Aotearoa a cluster of stars disappears beyond the horizon in April/May and rises back into view again in June/July. Matariki is the name given to the star cluster, and its rising is celebrated as the start of the new season of growth.

However, much of the New Zealand culture, including our Gregorian calendar, has been imported from the northern hemisphere where the seasons are inverted; too many of our public holidays are based on far-away events, ideas, seasons and characters, an echo of our colonial past. But the force is strong with our indigenous ways, and each year more and more Kiwis are embracing older, more integrated practices that connect us with the natural cycles of our environment, and each other. 

As we progress on our journey of decolonisation Matariki is increasing in prominence as an authentic, homegrown celebration. It is traditionally a time to reflect and acknowledge as well as look forward; it provides a welcome punctuation mark in the middle of the long dark winter.

Hosting a Matariki dinner at each of our studios gives us a chance to appreciate the commitment and contribution that all of our staff have made over the past year and – importantly – to acknowledge their partners and families for the vital supporting role that they play in the success of our studio. We remember those who have passed away and celebrate new life. Most of all it is simply a time to be present, share kai, enjoy each other’s company and deepen the strong relationships that we have with each other.


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