Pride of place for urban Māori

With over 85 percent of Māori now living in urban areas, a Victoria University of Wellington researcher is exploring how whānau have adapted their environment to fit cultural needs.

Rebecca Kiddle

“New Zealand was built around a colonial identity that did not include Māori identities. Often authentic indigeneity is seen as a rural thing—and urban spaces as the sites of colonisation,” says Dr Rebecca Kiddle from Victoria’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences.

“But Māori have subconsciously and consciously shown resilience by subverting and creating places in urban areas that support social and cultural needs. Through responses, such as urban marae and urban papakāinga, Māori have re-established and created new connection to their urban environments.

“There are some interesting questions to be answered. How have Māori adapted spaces, temporary or permanent, formal or informal, that respond to tikanga? In what ways has this been difficult to do given the colonial values that shape our cities? How have non-Māori been influenced by Māori ways of living?”

Dr Kiddle (Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Porou) lived in the United Kingdom and China for 10 years. On returning to New Zealand, she began to consider the ways in which our towns and cities could better cherish and celebrate Māori identity.

“Globalisation means cities all around the world are starting to look the same, and there’s now this call for a focus on developing unique places and unique place-identity. Māori, identities are unique to New Zealand—and something we should embrace.”

Overall, Dr Kiddle’s research focuses on what decolonisation means to New Zealanders in relation to how their cities look and feel. “This is not just a Māori conversation—everyone must get involved in thinking about this.

“When I think about decolonised cities I think about cities that convey the identity of mana whenua (the iwi/hapū group whose historic roots link to that place),” she says.

Dr Kiddle recently led a project in collaboration with Ngāti Toa asking people to imagine what a decolonised city might be like using two sites in Porirua.

The Imagining Decolonised Cities competition was funded by the New Zealand National Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).  Participants were asked to submit ideas for a decolonised site, which could take a number of forms including poetry, essays, images, masterplans, artworks and short films.

The three winning groups, who each took home first place prizes of $3,000, were all based on a set of clear values from which they developed a proposal for one of the sites.

A full list of submissions is available on the Imagining Decolonised Cities competition website, and an analysis of the entries and ideas is expected in the coming months.