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May 29, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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A Land Long Clouded

Imagining Decolonised Cities presents a symposium: What is a Decolonised City?


[Beginning with: The Mind]

I had planned to go for only half the symposium, a typical Pākehā response — pop in, see the speakers I wanted to then leave, back to my own life and whatever it was I normally did on Saturdays. I messaged IDC about it on Facebook, and the response was unequivocal: unless I’d been pōwhiri’d onto Takapūwāhia Marae before, it was important I be there at 10.00am. As Moana Jackson was later to note, decolonisation is a long haul. If I was in, I’d better keep up.

Takapūwāhia Marae affiliates to Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and is in Porirua, loosely half an hour from my Dad’s flat in Highbury and the middle class homes that hug the hill. I turned off Titahi Bay Road early by mistake and did a slow lap round to Ngātitoa Street: state houses with kids playing out front, peeling paint, and a pile of broken TVs, slowly giving themselves to the grass.

We huddled on the far side of the street from the marae, the first notes of the karanga drawing us in and on, shoes off, and into the wharenui where te reo reigned and I sat looking at the carvings. The welcomes finished. There was a response then the hongi began, the attendees in a long line, moving slowly forward towards the tangata whenua and the other speakers.

Morning tea was called and I thought about how relaxed it all was, formal but flexible — no one had checked any tickets or crossed names off. I’d only RSVP’d two days before. When we got inside there hadn’t been enough seats but no stress, more were fetched and on it all went.

Back in the wharenui the kōrero switched to English and the MC Taku Parai got up and explained some of his background, his relationship to place: “I was born up the road and… I’ve never left. This is my eternal home.” He described his foray into America, how he’d lasted one day in Las Vegas with his rugby team before bailing, into a cab and on a plane home, the feeling of calm he felt when he saw the harbour from the plane window: “This is where I belong.” Taku spoke to the communal aspects of Te Ao Māori, how the homes in his neighbourhood were “always open, always welcoming,” how the conference was an extension of that, an exploration of what decolonised cities might be, the different ways we might bring them into being: “A return back in some way or form.”


The first speaker was Patricia Grace, esteemed author and affiliate to Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, and Te Ati Awa, recently successful in her battle with NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to have her family land near Waikanae spared from the motorway development. She explained how the case had played out: how she had only been contacted after all opportunities for consultation had closed, how NZTA had claimed they hadn’t had her phone number, how her mother had been sick and that had occupied her, the answer of “no” one that was exceedingly slow to get through.

Patricia’s husband had explained the land’s significance, how it was part of an old village and that there had been burials on the high part of the dune, that they didn’t want to sell it. Patricia was more blunt: “How many ways are there of saying no?”

NZTA were trying to acquire the land under section 18 of the Public Works Act, for the purpose of the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway, and when Patricia applied to the Māori Land Court to have its status shifted to Māori reserve — a move that would establish it as inalienable, even by the Crown — NZTA opposed the action.

The matter proceeded to the Environment Court, where Patricia gave evidence of the land’s significance, of which we received a short summary. It had come down to her from Wiremu Te Kakakura Parata, one of New Zealand’s first Māori politicians and a man of some significance around Waikanae. Patricia described the area in the 1850s, sheep stations and fields of wheat, a flour mill — all Māori-owned. In 1884 land had been donated for the railway and some shops established, all part of Wi Parata’s commitment to working together with Pākehā.

I found this strange when going over my notes. In 1877, in the case that bears his name, Wi Parata had challenged the Bishop of Wellington over land gifted for an Anglican Church that had never eventuated, his case famously dismissed by Prendergast CJ who had described Te Tiriti as “a simple nullity.” When Patricia Grace had mentioned it, hairs stood up on my head, but it wasn’t until writing this that I realised the timing: it all happened before he gifted the railway land. As Patricia said, “Tangata whenua in this country have given enough.”

Eventually the Environment Court found in Patricia’s favour, establishing a precedent that points to an increasing understanding of tikanga. The decision acknowledged that wāhi tapu has a broader meaning than just those physical components which can be pointed to: it is about the whole.

While no doubt pleased at her victory, and the precedent it has set, Patricia pointed out the irony of the Crown compensating with one hand while it takes under the Public Works Act with the other. She ended her kōrero with a sly dig at those who would boast before looking too closely: “We can’t have a great city while we have child poverty, while we have unclean water…“ Clearly, there’s a long way to go.


The next speaker was Rangi Kipa, of Taranaki, Te Atiawa Nui Tonu, and Ngāti Maniapoto, a carver, artist, and powerful speaker — as he himself admitted, he envisions his role (and that of the artist more generally) as provocateur, someone who promotes critical discussion.

His kōrero began with an admission of uncertainty: he wasn’t sure where to start. The world faces such big issues — the scale of our problem now such that our very existence is at stake — and yet, if you start there, people just run away. I was instantly on board. He joked about frustrations, “how stupid humans are,” the deficits written into our language: “in the way we see ourselves and how we interact.” For Rangi, the key is to frame things in the context of relationship.

He talked about the primacy of the environment, the deficits in how we engage with shelter and food, and the need for “collective gardens.” How he had been thinking about what we could do to “save the world,” and how simple things in our own lives are its beginning. He talked about his bro and the seed storage he does, the process of reverting to papakāinga, his thought echoing my own: “we want to live in community again.”

At times he was brutally frank. He talked about the end of the treaty settlement process in Taranaki, and how it presented an opportunity to move beyond the infighting to a common future; how the purchase of land for a papakāinga was a step towards resisting the processes that pull us apart. He didn’t say it, but I knew what he meant. Our world was so individual now.

He talked about the issue of “collective connection” and how there was a romanticisation of Māori, one that masked a darker truth: “most of our people are strangers to each other, even though they’re kin.” If we are to move forward, then this is where we have to start, solving these problems is the best inheritance you can leave your kids: “that’s what your job is.”

There was an issue with marae, he said, as no one lives there anymore. Using settlement money to buy the land around them was a step towards collective living and farming. The land was to be bought “for occupation, not ownership” — something that “supersedes identity politics as far as I’m concerned.” I thought of what being Pākehā meant to me, the significance of hearing such kōrero. He talked about the early days of settlement and the assimilation that occurred during them, his vision of a return to this, organised not around race, but values, a common language: relationships.

One of our problems, Rangi said, is that “we don’t have a language that transcends the boundary of our ethnic nouns.” So divided, we struggle to move forwards. He talked about the brightly coloured tiki he had created, his idea being that they might be a way for Pākehā to express their connection to whenua: a new icon, with deep roots but still accessible, not just “for Māori.”

In a kōrero that echoed that of Michael King, he spoke of how Pākehā too are of this place: “we can’t pretend they just popped over”; of the need for a shared language; how both parties will have to come to the table — the difficulty of this acknowledged, for as Rangi noted, Māori have moved so much — but the need for a meeting remains. It was about tā tāua: ours over yours or mine.


MC Taku got up. “Some powerful stuff there,” he said. I thought about emotion and how it was welcome here, invited — stark counter to the clinical, the sterility of other conferences I’d been to.

This was a thread picked up by the next speaker, Lena Henry, of Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, and Te Rarawa, a lecturer at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland, who described the differences here, on marae: the wairua present and its “imagining” — the different doors that this opens.

She began with a story about her son, and how one day he had asked: “How come Pākehā don’t respect us?” “What do you mean?” Lena had said, and her son replied, “We have to learn their language, but they don’t have to learn ours.” “Well,” said Lena, “it’s called colonisation — do you want to learn about it?” “No.” Later he had asked, and Lena explained that it was people who thought their ideas were better taking over, his silent acceptance later grown loud, in the kitchen, calling out: “Colonisation — sorry ’bout it!”

Lena specialises in Māori and urban planning and spoke to the relationship between local government and Māori, the European philosophy at the root of our planning system (now with Māori values tacked on), and the need for “a radical unsettlement.” She talked about the need for marae to be residential, and how tangata whenua are sick of being “consulted” (and not listened to). Their goal is that of mana whenua and tino rangatiratanga: being involved as host, having the power to make decisions.

None of these ideas are new, she said. We have lots of ways to decolonise. It’s about mindset and the willingness of those in power to implement it. She discussed her work educating planners about Māori concepts, giving them a vocabulary, and the shift there had been on Queen Street in Auckland — from exotic planting to natives, led by a Pākehā, beneath the level of policy. Just quietly replacing them as they aged, avoiding the contest. We all have roles to play.

She ended with a whakataukī: Kua tawhiti ke to haerenga mai, kia kore e haere tonu. He tino nui rawa ou mahi, kia kore e mahi nui tonu. You have come too far, not to go further. You have done too much, not to do more.


After lunch it was Moana Jackson’s turn to speak, his approach one of storytelling, short bits from his life, delivered calmly but with messages that were to resonate, each enlightening the next. For those who don’t know him, Moana is Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, and Ngāti Porou, and a highly regarded lawyer and legal academic. It was a privilege to hear him speak.

“Every land has stories within it,” he said, recounting a trip with his koro to their maunga, how he had been taught its myth and the story of its name. As they talked, his koro kept telling him to turn and look at the maunga, and eventually Moana realised what he was teaching him: “Things change… but what is important about change is that the foundations are strong.”

Another story focused on the future, and one of Moana’s mokopuna, raised in te reo and just starting to learn English. She was reading, and asked him, “What’s the future?” Moana explained how he had thought of Patricia Grace’s words from Potiki, how the past and future are just circles in time which we name for our convenience, opting instead for a simpler answer.

“How do we find a future?” his moko asked, and Moana replied, “Perhaps we just walk towards it.” There was a silence, and Moana admitted he wasn’t sure how much had gone in.

The next day he spotted her packing a lunch, and watched as she walked past the window to her bike, their Pākehā neighbour trailing behind, as he was wont to do, a little bit younger and enthralled. “Where are you going?” the boy asked. “I’m going to find a future,” she said. “Can I come?” he asked and she looked at him and said, “Boy, can you keep up?”

Moana expanded: it was about whether everyone could keep up. He talked about how change is an ongoing process, the need to define what “colonisation” is: an away from which to move. Colonisation isn’t just the destruction of language and the taking of land; it’s about changing how people see the world, the “imposition of power” — ways of governing that come from somewhere else.

Treaties, said Moana, are about relationships. Before 1840, he said, the world was built on relationships and whakapapa, and everywhere the land is full of stories of relationships — not partnerships.

As Moana explained, partnership has a specific legal meaning, and referring to Te Tiriti as a partnership, as the government has been, is a redefinition of what it actually means. The problem is that you can have an unequal partnership, a senior and junior partner. But, Moana said, treaties are about “an equality of relationships… different, but equal.” Colonisation had destroyed that equality, and replaced it with a partnership. He suggested we only refer to a treaty relationship: “and we can make this land whatever we want to do with it.”

The key point is that “treaties aren’t settled; they are honoured.” And they are only honoured when the treaty and the relationship it establishes are worked through, and, as Moana explained, that hasn’t happened yet.

He went on to give us some history of his whakapapa’s experience with Te Tiriti. Many Kahungunu hāpu didn’t want to sign, but his did, travelling a considerable distance only to be told their female rangatira couldn’t sign — at the time, women were still considered property under English law, and certainly weren’t able to sign treaties — so they went home.

This was an example, he said, of some of the less visible elements of colonisation: the damage that has been done to our perception of self, and the impact it has on our intimate relationships. He alluded to domestic violence and its harm, how things weren’t always this way. In addition to its physical components, colonisation carries mental baggage: patriarchy and its evils, the idea of nature as inanimate — far cry from the relationships that existed before, where people were different, but equal. Moving past this was a slow process, that “of reclaiming our truth, of decolonising what we have been taught.”

To decolonise, he said, we don’t need to speak “truth to power,” because doing so privileges Crown power. Instead we needed to “talk the truth of our power, and in doing that realise the power of our truth.”

In a relationship, everyone needs to work. It starts with simple things: pronouncing reo correctly, educating yourself on the country’s history, and understanding that even as reparations are made, as long as there is an inequality in the balance of power then decolonisation is not done.


The process of decolonisation ends, he continued, with the country being brave and imaginative enough to ask what this relationship means in terms of power and legislative authority, in terms of constitutional authority. Ultimately, it is about autonomy and equality. And a position where Māori have to ask permission is a fundamental inequality.

Moana then turned to his research on Bolivia’s 2009 constitution, and how this had informed his own proposals for Aotearoa. Driven by indigenous voice, the process culminated in the recognition of the rights of Pachamama or the Earth Mother. There as here, her well being is primary: “she is our mother because she is the fount of all relationships.”

Moana explained how when the earth is put first, the process of decision making changes: “No one step is more important than the others — like the tukutuku panels, they’re all interrelated.” However, the Government had rejected his recommendations. He talked about how at times it felt like he was banging his head against a wall, how one of his moko had said, “Koro, why don’t we just walk around the wall?”

His final words were prophetic, 2040 set as the date for a new, decolonised constitution and it up to us, ngā tāngata, to make it happen: “The future we shape is the past we take into it, the future we shape is what we imagine.” While decolonisation is made up of many little steps, it is the final that may be the most difficult: “people don’t easily give up power, but we walk towards it.”

The afternoon wore on; there were more speakers, more ideas and discussion, more cups of tea, and finally a chance to look at the entries into IDC’s competition (I haven’t mentioned it, but VUW’s Architecture School, the School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences, and Te Kawa a Māui  are key convenors of IDC — look them up: I’m already far in excess of the word limit — Salient too operates within a colonial framework. And yet, from the old, the new. There is no easy place to break. You have to make a stand, and go from there. What do you do?

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