A short story first…
“Shut up you dick!” cried Hana. She’d had enough of the fighting and hostility playing out in her living room. She stormed off to her bedroom, collapsed on to her bed, sunk her face into her pillow and wept. She was only 10. Hana’s mum was killed the year before by a Pākehā man who ran her over following a racist encounter at the pub she worked. He’d waited until she finished up, then in his drunken rage ploughed his car into her, as she crossed the road. After that, everything changed. Her Dad began drinking heavily and returned to the gang life he’d detached from when he met her mother. He’d get angry, then sad and then angry again. Alcohol and gang life comforted him. But Hana didn’t like it. She felt afraid and unsafe in this new life her dad had imposed on them.
Hana had made up her mind that night to stand up to them. But things took a turn following her outburst. Haki who had been teasing her, got out of his seat rushed over to her with a raised hand, poised to strike. Her Dad stepped in to defuse the situation. But trying not to look soft in front of the gang, he growled her for being disrespectful and meted out a punishment. He made her clean up the lounge where they were all congregated – get rid of the empties, clean the ashtrays, clear the dishes, vacuum the floor and serve them beers and kai. They watched, they laughed, they threw their empties on the floor for her to pick up fully exploiting the situation for their amusement. Hana was furious with her Dad. He had humiliated her.
She recalled how when her mother was alive, she was his angel. He would never have done that. He would never have humiliated her. Hana was a middle child, but the oldest girl. She had two older brothers, but they were never around because when her Dad gets drunk he gets angry and takes it out on them.
By the time Hana turned 15, her trauma began to play out in in unhealthy ways. She began taking serious risks. On one particular day, she stole a car and took it for a joyride on the country roads she thought she knew so well. Hana didn’t see the other car coming. She had been distracted trying to tune the radio. She crossed the centre line. The noise was unforgettable. The sound of metal colliding created a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She thought the driver in the other car stood no chance. Hana broke down. At this moment she remembered her mum and how much she missed her. She knew that her mum would not want this life for her and that she would be weeping at the way Hana’s life was turning out.
Hana stood in the wreckage frozen in disbelief at the mess she had caused. She took in the surroundings as if she’d lost her hearing, the scene taking place in slow motion as if detached from her. Flashes of her Dad as loving then the monster he had become. Visions of her brothers once full of hope and energy now fully committed to their gang life. Her baby sisters about to be confined to the pathway of trauma she had experienced in the past five years. Hana felt helpless and abandoned. As the police and ambulance arrived, Hana returned to reality. She heard an old but familiar voice calling out to her “Kōtiro! Kōtiro, come here”. Hana turned to see a kuia she had once known. She realised that she had collided with, and nearly taken the life of someone whom she had loved as a child.
Hana approached the kuia, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” she sobbed repeatedly. The kuia looked into her eyes, grabbed her hand and said “Kōtiro, your wairua is not well. You must remember in all your pain that you are your ancestors and they are with you. I’ve heard what has been happening since your Mother passed. Only now, have I seen the depth of your pain”. Hana cried again realising she had a choice to make – stay, where life would continue to be complicated, unsafe and wairua unwell or go, create a new life, heal her pain so she could heal the pain of her whānau.
After the ambulance cleared her, and the police questioned her, Hana went home. She asked the Officer to drop her off a bit down the road, as she was worried her dad would lose his temper if she showed up with them. They agreed, but because of her age told her they would need to speak with him soon.
When Hana walked in the door, the house was silent.
This was unusual, as her dad and sisters were always home. And there was nearly always visitors drinking in her lounge. She searched the house, but no one was there. She went outside – maybe her sisters were playing out the back, as they often did.
As Hana stepped out the back door, she saw what looked like a shadow. She froze. At the back of her house is a large tree. It used to have a tyre swing. She began screaming. She couldn’t hear her screams, but she could feel them. As she drew nearer to the tree, she began to wail. It was her dad. It was his shadow, hanging from the tree. But beneath him, lay her beautiful baby sisters, lifeless. Some neighbours had heard her screaming and came over to assist. Heeding the words of the kuia, she called on her ancestors to give her strength.
Hana, now in her 60s lives in the city. She has never been home. It is too painful for her. However, her mokopuna have begun asking about their tupuna and their culture. Hana has lost much of what she learned as a young child. When she left, she consciously left it all behind. Today, she had a vision of that kuia – “You are your ancestors’ kōtiro”.
(Involuntary) Urbanisation of Māori
Not every urban story begins with trauma or pain as explicit as this story. The above, is not a biography of any person, rather it is a persona intended to illustrate the complex and devastating effects of colonisation and rapid and arguably involuntary urbanisation of Māori in Aotearoa. I wanted to highlight that adversity impacts people in different ways and that the outcomes can involve more complexities than what seems obvious. Escaping negative social and economic conditions is a complex choice, often made out of necessity about survival.
Urbanisation of Māori is the story of perpetual colonisation. That is not to say that urbanisation in itself is a negative. It has many benefits and opportunities particularly in our modern context provided the cultural infrastructure of indigenous groups is enabled to thrive through positive social attitudes toward our culture, inclusive policy and sufficient resourcing. However, the implications for Māori through carefully executed assimilation policies by the Crown has embedded intergenerational trauma that will take generations to heal.
The Crowns English-language manual-labour focused education policies for Māori eventually coincided with slowing rural but booming urban economic conditions, which left many whānau with little choice except to move away from the tribal rohe and migrate to the cities. As noted above, choice is complex in this context, and as such, urbanisation was arguably involuntary. For many it was a decision made on the Crown’s promise of work, money and pleasure. Like other promises made by the Crown, the reality quickly began to paint a different picture. As highlighted by UN-Habitat, ‘both indigenous rural–urban migrants and long-time indigenous urbanites tend to be marginalised and discriminated against by dominant population groups’.
Urbanisation of Māori was sadly not the story of realising potential, accessing opportunity, and achieving a high standard of living. We know now from lived experience that as well as disproportionate representation of Māori across the lower end of socio-economic outcomes and low participation rates in civic matters that urbanisation is also a major cause of intergenerational whānau fragmentation, disconnection to our hapū, iwi, whenua, and culture and loss of mātauranga, reo and cultural identity.
Ngāpuhi and the urban and hau kainga discussion
The notion of urban Māori has become a prominent feature in Ngāpuhi discussions as we prepare for Treaty settlement negotiations. However, disconnection – created and perpetuated by the Crown, continues to fuel the rifts we are experiencing as urban and hau kainga descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi.
There is no consensus on whether urban Ngāpuhi should be included in the proposed negotiating structure. One of the reasons is that there is great discomfort in identifying a subset of Ngāpuhi as urban Ngāpuhi, in the sense that as urban they are distinct from their hapū. The reason for this unease, and in some cases rejection of the urban proposition, is that those who identify as Ngāpuhi do so as descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and urban is not a hapū. As Waihoroi Shortland pointed out at a hui in Tāmaki Makaurau recently, Ngāpuhi is an identifier external to us, it is the consolidation of a number of hapū, who in their collective state form Ngāpuhi nui tonu.
I agree with those arguments. However, I also think there is a distinction between identity and experience in this context. For instance, in terms of my Ngāpuhi ancestry, my identity is as Ngāti Tautahi and Ngāti Rēhia. However, my experience as those identities is distinct from the hau kainga experience. My experience is urban. I was born and raised in Tīmaru (more than 1000 kilometres away from my tribal rohe), and have lived in Tāmaki Makaurau now for the majority of my adult life. My understanding of and connection to our whakapapa is much less than those who grew up on our marae with our kawa and tikanga, and on our ancestral whenua among our maunga, awa, and ngāhere.
My identity is not separate from te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi. However, my experience, and the experiences of many others is unique to our particular lived circumstances. Our experience of colonisation is tied to our urban-ness. We speak to disconnection as felt from being separated from our hau kainga and all of which that embodies. We speak to our marginalisation in the cities and our direct experiences of institutional racism in an urban context.
Our experiences are as much a part of colonisation as the experiences of our hau kainga.
The urban experience is a direct result of colonisation, and parking our experiences in the settlement context allows the Crown to avoid or minimise the significance of the urban disconnection conversation that continues to shaft te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi who have only ever lived in our urban centres or outside our tribal rohe.
In my experience, those of us who have urban experiences do not consider our hapū or iwi at fault. We do not consider this an “us (urban)” versus “them (hau kainga)” kaupapa. It is about all of us collectively holding the Crown to account for the destruction its assimilation policies wrought on our communities and within our whānau over many generations. It is not about pointing the finger at specific individuals who represent the Crown today or our Pākehā whānau, friends or neighbours. It is about recognising that the system that people like Hon Andrew Little represents, as a Minister of the Crown, and the system that enabled our Pākehā ancestors to settle here, has been unkind, unfair and frankly destructive to our Māori ways of being across a range of social, cultural, political and economic intersections.
We must be clear: involuntary urbanisation is a very real experience for many Ngāpuhi and locating our experience in our context is not about severance from our hapū, it is about recognising our distinct experiences of colonisation. We are descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and we are also urban in our experience. Not every person who lives in an urban area will or is required to define themselves in an urban context, but to deny those of us who locate our experiences as Ngāpuhi in an urban context is to marginalise our voices and perpetuate the colonisation of the Crown.
We are our ancestors and we are surviving but fragmented we cannot and will not thrive.