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Urbanisation of Māori

This chapter examines the move Māori made from a mainly rural to a mainly urban environment.

Move leads to change

During the 20th century, Māori culture and way of life underwent transformation. Following World War II there was a significant shift away from a largely rural tribal culture to one that is predominantly urban. In the 1930s, 80 percent of the Māori population lived in rural areas and tribal homelands (Pool, 1991), but by the 1970s, the large majority of Māori were urban dwellers (Statistics NZ, 2012). This rapid urbanisation had a profound effect on the structure of Māori groupings and Mäori identity that remains evident in patterns of iwi identification today.

A variety of factors contributed to urbanisation, including a slowing rural economy and an overpopulation of land resources, and urban life presented Māori with an attractive alternative. However, those who moved to urban centres were no longer able to participate in traditional tribal life, resulting in weakened iwi identities (Rarere, 2012).

Along with the shift away from rural living came a shift away from living within a collective of people with similar world views, where common ancestral ties provided secure connections to identity. The new and often hostile urban environment promoted individualism, and integration with the Pākehā-dominated environment.

Once in town they found new problems and the need for a reaffirmation of their Māori identity. A new synthesis had to be found that would allow Māoris to remain Māori while participating in the Pākehā world. (Sinclair, 1990, p224).


‘Urban iwi’ develop

In response, new forms of Māori organisations developed in urban areas, creating a new sense of community and connectedness, as well as providing Māori identification within a pan-tribal context. New non-tribal structures provided whanau-like support networks for dislocated Māori became established within the urban environment. The emergence of Ngāti Poneke in Wellington is an example of this search for collective belonging. Eventually, the newcomers and tangata whenua groups living in the area decided:

That there needed to be a regular meeting-place, a welcoming place – a marae – for the city. So they formed themselves into a synthetic tribe, Ngāti Poneke. Among other things they set about fund-raising with a concert party. (Ritchie, 1992, p15).

As one member recalls, this new ‘urban tribe’ brought a sense of belonging and security:

I became a member of Ngāti Poneke and was enjoying my new-found happiness. I will always be Ngāti Poneke until I die. I owe the club so much – for its protection; for the joyous things we did together; and for the warmth I never got anywhere else. We hung onto each other. It was our whanau. Nāti Poneke was our turangawaewae, our rock and strength, our protection. Without it we would have gone around like people with no heads. We’d have been lost. At Ngāti Poneke I could stop pretending. ‘Nobody can touch me here’, I thought. It was our Māori house, where I could be where I belonged. I was a different person away from Ngāti Poneke. As soon as I was out those doors I put my iron coat on. (Mihipeka Edwards in Grace, Ramsden, & Dennis, 2001, p90).

Although Ngāti Poneke claimed to be non-tribal, the reality was that tribal identity and social networking were perhaps its strongest assets aside from people. While, tribal identity may have been important, it also appears that whanau identity and networks were equally important. (Nikora, 2007, p65).

Urban marae and the emergence of new non-kin-based Māori organisations were logical outcomes of urbanisation. They were strengthened by the quest of Māori urban dwellers to belong to like-minded collectives sharing common beliefs. However, while these outcomes are accepted by many, they are not supported or acknowledged by others who promote traditional tribal kin-based structures. As Hana O’Regan (2001) says:

Part of that growing up was the realisation that if I expected others to respect Kai Tahu for our differences and the choices we have made through time, then I needed to respect the choices made by others, including pan Māori groups and urban Māori. This doesn’t mean that I have to like what they are saying or the symbols they choose for their identity, but I do have to acknowledge their right to define themselves in a way which best suits them. It may not seem like a big leap-but this was in fact a major mind-shift for me personally. (O’Regan, 2001, pp26–27).

Newly formed iwi often face difficulty, and these emerging urban collectives were no exception. Many urban organisations have multi-iwi origins; the centrality of whakapapa as the basis for iwi definition no longer applies. Maaka (1994) describes conflicts and difficulties faced by urban Māori associations trying to establish a new tribe in their place of residence, independent of the tribe's traditional rohe (regional area):

Conclusions that can be drawn from this experience are that to create a lasting and active tribal entity outside the home territory requires more than just the motivation arising from nostalgia and emotional links with some distant tribe. The numbers of Kahungunu who did not affiliate with the runanga indicate a loss of understanding of a cohesive tribal identity; for these people tribal affiliation is of secondary importance when measured against other social realities of city life. The group needed a material expression of their identity, a communally owned asset. The most appropriate asset would have been a meetinghouse, a building whose style makes a statement about traditional Māori culture. (Maaka, 1994, p16).

Of recent times, especially with the subcontracting of the South Island functions of the new Ministry of Māori Development (Te Puni Kōkiri) to Ngāi Tahu, there appears to be some renewed interest in tribal-group associations. However, this time it is unlikely that single groups like the Kahungunu runanga will be at the forefront; more likely, the multitribal Matawaka will represent the non-Ngäi Tahu in Christchurch city. Te Runanga o Matawaka is a multitribal organization that stemmed from the idea of establishing urban Māori authorities, as suggested in the Runanga Iwi Act, as an option for large urban Māori populations. It has parallels in other cities, such as the Manukau Urban Authority in South Auckland and the Waipareira Trust in West Auckland. Matawaka consists of delegates from the various organized tribal groups and has recently opened an office in central Christchurch. The future of this type of organization will depend on the strength of the commitment of its kaumatua leadership and iwi delegates. It has an image problem both internally and externally, and there is a danger that member groups and individuals will see the Matawaka as a welfare center in place of the former Māori Affairs department. (Maaka, 1994, p20).

Often the attempt by urban Māori to return to their traditions in the new environment is not appreciated by their iwi or official representatives.

Minority indigenous peoples in post-colonial situations struggle to balance a desire to modernise their cultures while retaining those institutions from the past which foster and perpetuate their distinctive identity. (Maaka, 1994, p213).

This tension continues to affect Māori development, as has been observed by some commentators.

[T]he urbanised Māoris of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch ... too often are devalued by iwi Māoris and the Government. (The Press, 20 Feb 1993 as cited in Maaka, 1994).

Māoridom's "march back to tribalism" in recent years was a tragic mistake, the Eastern Māori MP, Mr Peter Tapsell said in Invercargill yesterday. Many Māoris were clinging to tribalism in desperation during a time of great change, even though tribal groupings were of more relevance to the past century than this one, he said. (The Press, 29 Sept 1993 as cited in Maaka, 1994).

Parallel to the resistance that hapū wanting to separate and become independent iwi face, urban iwi trying to establish their existence in cities independent from their traditional iwi experience a struggle for legitimacy. This process of separation and establishment can take several years, and has uncertain results, due to differing levels of acceptance from certain groups and differing levels of material support available to these groups.

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