Iwi connections important for ‘urban’ Māori

Many Māori who migrated to Wellington 50 years ago still don’t consider the city “home”, new research from Victoria University of Wellington reveals.

PhD student Erin Keenan

Many Māori who migrated to Wellington 50 years ago still don’t consider the city “home”, new research from Victoria University of Wellington reveals.

As part of Erin Keenan’s PhD research, she spoke to Māori about their migration experiences after WWII, with a specific focus on the capital city.

“These are people who have lived in the city for over 50 years and they still don’t see themselves as being a person from Wellington—it’s somewhere they live, but not where they’re from.

“The fact that Māori still feel the need to deny this urbanisation—that they prioritise iwi identities over loyalty to a city—shows that the idea still carries some weight that urbanisation required the loss of iwi identities, despite evidence to the contrary.

“However, instead of a simple story of loss and loneliness, urbanisation was also about resilience,” she says.

Erin found a range of reasons why Māori moved to Wellington and stayed and there was no universal experience for those who made the journey.

Erin recalls one woman’s positive experience. “She enjoyed meeting people from different iwi and backgrounds and found people to be friendly. This contrasts with another who felt so separate from her family and she ended up getting into a bit of trouble.”

Erin also spoke to people who described moving to Wellington as a time of loss, disconnection and detribalisation (the abandonment of local customs to adopt urban ways of living).

“One person found visiting home was too hard emotionally so she didn’t visit. Another felt he needed to go home regularly as a way to recharge his batteries.”

Erin says she made the topic of Maori urbanisation experiences her own, even looking into a personal connection to the research area.

When her grandfather returned from the New Zealand Air Force at the end of WWII, he moved from Pungarehu to New Plymouth where he was a part of a rehabilitation scheme for Māori soldiers.

When Erin looked through archived records of this time in her grandfather’s life, it inspired her to think about others and what they had experienced.

Erin’s grandfather passed away before she started her PhD, but she says his death sparked her motivation. “Older generations are only with us for a certain amount of time, so we need to talk about their experiences and learn from them.

“The people who lived during those times are our kaumātua now. I was very privileged to have the chance to interview some of the most knowledgeable.”