Viewport width =
August 22, 2017 | by  | in Interview | [ssba]

Interview with Dr Rebecca Kiddle

Dr Rebecca Kiddle, Ngāti Porou and Ngā Puhi, is a lecturer for the School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington. She is one of the founders of Imagining Decolonised Cities (IDC). Salient spoke to Kiddle to ask how we, all of us, could get involved in thinking about our urban spaces, and how they could reflect the unique culture and history of this country.



In an article published on the VUW website, you mentioned that urban marae and urban papakāinga are ways of creating a sense of place-identity. Can you give me some examples of what these look like?

Cities tend to be made up of two groups of people, at least in the Māori community — there’s mana whenua, who are from that place, this is their tūrangawaewae; and then there’s mātāwaka or taurahere groups, who are Māori, like me, living somewhere which is not my tribal roots. And “urban marae” is really the name assigned to the marae that mātāwaka or taurahere groups have established in the city.

So an example in Wellington would be the Ngāti Pōneke marae down in Thorndon and Tapu Te Ranga in Island Bay. Those types of marae were established when there was this urban migration to the city post World War Two and Māori whānau were looking for ways in which they could carry out their tikanga, or cultural practice. I think it really centered around things like tangi, or funeral, needing spaces that could hold people, that could be a place where people could carry out tangihanga tikanga. But they’re used for all sorts of things — hui of different kinds, kapa haka practice, parties, weddings.

[…] Papakāinga is a more established idea of a traditional Māori settlement, and urban papakāinga had [come to be] seen by government and Māori communities themselves as potentially a response to housing needs. You see around Greta Point, Te Āti Awa have recently developed a modern, medium density papakāinga there.


Moving on to IDC — can you give us a bit of background of how that project/movement began and how you came to be involved in it?

So it really began over a glass of wine with my colleague, Amanda Thomas, who’s a Pākehā lecturer in geography and environmental studies, and her work aims to be decolonising in the way that she does it, and in terms of the outcomes. And we struck up a discussion, thinking: how do we make cities a reflection of the indigenous people that have always lived there? I think it goes back to another idea that often indigeneity is understood to be a rural construct. So people understand Māoriness to be a rural thing, in general not entirely, and cities are not really understood to be indigenous places. But they are, and they always have been and they always will be. We just don’t celebrate that enough. So we were thinking, how do you change the urban realm to be an indigenous urban realm?

What you need is some kind of decolonisation process. [So we thought] okay so how do you do that? And it really was an experiment to open up this public competition where we say, here’s a site — public, give us your ideas: what does decolonisation mean, and secondly, what does it look like in relation to place? Often decolonisation is talked about in relation to other things, social things, like poverty or incarceration rates. But we were particularly interested in place — what is the tangible outcome for our cities?

There’s lots of us in the team now [including] Derek Kawiti, Morton Gjerde, Ocean Mercier, Mike Ross, and of course we’ve collaborated with Ngāti Toa — Bianca Elkington and Jennie Smeaton.


To go on to the symposium that IDC had, how did that go, from your perspective?

I think it was great! We had a great lineup of speakers, all from very different backgrounds — artists, [a] lawyer, Ngāti Toa, we had planners, architects. We had an Aboriginal architect come in and talk about his work. It was a really great mix of people just thinking about what does this look like for our cities. More generally, but also particularly for Porirua.


On the topic of decolonisation, what are important aspects around that very big and loaded word that you think should be addressed before we can even think what it would look like in our cities?

I think that’s a really good question and it’s a really tricky question to answer. I think one of the key things we found, [as] Moana Jackson said, how do you have these conversations if people don’t really understand what colonisation is or what the impact of colonisation is?

Because it was a public competition, it was very hard to sit everyone down who wanted to be involved and say, look this is what colonisation is, if you didn’t already know. So we did try, in the background information that we provided people, to give them a sense of that. Quite a tricky job.[…] So that is something we will try and improve in the future if we were doing something similar. To have a discussion of decolonisation, you have to understand what colonisation is and what the impact of that is on Māori.

There needs to be an understanding of social justice, a broad understanding of what that means and why that is important for [de]colonisation. I think there is a need to recognise the role of mana whenua in our society, our cities, our places, and recognise the mana they have over than whenua in that particular area. I think those are the keys things that need to be addressed before you can move on to thinking about decolonisation.


In the article on the VUW website you mention globalisation in cities around the world and how they are starting to look the same, that there’s this call for a focus to develop unique places and unique place-identity, [and that] Māori identities are unique to New Zealand and something we should embrace. I took that word globalisation, and I was thinking about it for ages. In the broader sense of the moving across borders of ideas, people, and constructions, how do you see immigration and refugees as part of this globalisation, in relation to this larger movement of decolonisation?

It’s a great question and it’s a question that we need to explore in a bit more detail actually. I think yes, immigration and refugees are a part of the globalisation movement in some ways. New Zealand has long been part of a globalisation of movement of people. I think there needs to be a discussion and I think that actually [from mine and my colleagues’ experiences] refugees, in particular, are often pretty open and empathetic to this idea of decolonisation because they’ve either been indigenous people in their own lands and they’ve been persecuted because of it, or they’ve been minorities in their own land and been persecuted because of it. So I think that discussion is almost an easy one to have with refugees and new migrants because they’re kind of coming from a clean slate. […] I think we need to think through it a bit more.

One of the interesting experiences I had doing this project was [when] we were working with some young people in Porirua and we were talking about what decolonisation is. I was in a group with four young men — one from Malaysia, one from China (both quite recent migrants), a young man whose family was from Samoa, and another man whose family was from Vietnam. I was saying to them, what does decolonisation mean to you? And they were a bit baffled to start with, because they hadn’t had to think about it so much in relation to their lives.

Often we talk of this as being a Pākeha–Māori thing but actually, there’s more people involved in this conversation than Pākeha and Māori, but often that conversation doesn’t move past that dichotomy or binary.


How do you deal with or think through this tension of indigeneity and colonisation, and thinking of “urban” itself as a colonising or modern movement? With working within institutions that don’t stem from indigenous structures, to what extent can you indigenise that?

I think it’s very tricky, but I think it’s possible. I think there’s a danger of thinking of indigeneity as being an old thing, something in history. But actually, what we’re really interested in is contemporary indigeneity and future indigeneity and what all that means. I was at a symposium yesterday where people had done a 3-D scan of the marae over the road and I was thinking wow, that’s really forward-looking, to take marae and think about them as learning spaces [and] digitise them so that the learning can be broader than just those who are able to physically access that marae. I think it’s possible, it just has to be done in quite creative and interesting ways. But I do think it’s difficult working within institutions that don’t stem from indigenous structures and values.


Within that, what are some challenges that you’ve seen for Māori who have little connection to rural papakāinga, or rural marae, if they’ve grown up in urban settings?

There are lots of challenges and I experienced them myself, growing up away from our marae. I think a sense of belonging is often really a thing that people get worried about or concerned about, because it relates to identity. Who am I ? Am I Māori? Am I not Māori? What does it mean to be Māori? What does it mean to be Pākeha? And most of us are a mix of a whole range of different things, so that identity and belonging issue is a big deal.

[Other questions are]: Where do we belong? Where is our place? Where is our tūrangawaewae? Is it where we grew up? Is it our marae? Those kinds of things are really tricky.

And I think the third thing is about how do we reconnect? […]  Lots of young Māori and students that I’ve had want to reconnect and I think the university has a real role in encouraging that. How do we as lecturers and teachers encourage that reconnection for our students, so that they’re not having to rely on their own steam, [and] we’re helping to facilitate some of those connections.


To run with that sense of finding those connections, what are some examples that stood to you, perhaps even your own, of asserting that belonging and finding that sense of identity following that sense of removal?

The obvious one, and there’s a lovely book written on it called The Silent Migration, is the Ngāti Pōneke group [post World War Two]. So they banded together and had kapa haka groups […] and they’ve got a marae down in Thorndon, which I’ve already talked about, they’ve established a sense of belonging in Wellington.

Another example which is more contemporary is from my own whānau where my aunt recently passed away, and she was from Ruatoria up the east coast which is where she’d grown up and been most of her life, but her children were in Palmerston North. She, and her husband, wanted to have the tangi in Palmerston to be with her family. So there was lots of negotiation about turning this three bedroom house into a marae essentially.

My cousins got army tents, and gas cookers, tarpaulins, and set the deck up as a wharekai, and tables, and we had a hangi cooker that you can get from the Warehouse. So a real kind of contemporary adaptation of a three bedroom house in the suburb to create a marae. And I thought wow, this is a really amazing transformation. This is such a great assertion of this whanau, [saying] this is their place, their home, and that’s where she wanted to be.


That’s beautiful, going back to the creative ways of thinking about place and belonging. To go on from the article [on the VUW website], you’ve mentioned that this not just a Māori-Pākeha conversation. Everyone needs to be involved.  One of our writers who wrote about the IDC Symposium also wrote about this. He was struggling as a Pākeha writer and attendee of the symposium, thinking, where do I come into this?  How much do I listen? Where does my voice come in? Could you give us an example of what this discussion has looked like, could look like, in a way that’s fair and balanced, and being respectful to Māori as tangata whenua, and as voices that haven’t been a part of largely mainstream or governmental conversations of this? How do you negotiate these voices?

I think Māori or mana whenua have to be in charge of those conversations, because they’ve been most impacted by colonisation. So I do think that still stands true. But I think that Pākeha need to be involved. And to be involved respectfully is kind of just common sense. It’s about making sure you read the situation. Are you understanding what’s going on? Have you prepared and do you know the background to some of these situations? Have you built the relationships with mana whenua to be able to be at the table?

The competition that we held was quite unique in that it did blow open the door for anyone to be involved. I think that’s really important because lots of people said to us, “oh, I’ve never thought about this before.” In fact, one of the winners at the prizegiving [at the IDC Symposium], said “can I please say something?” And he stood up and said, “I’ve grown up in a town where there were no marae, and I’d never thought about it. Never had any Māori around me and I’ve never had to think about these issues and this is the first time, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity of being part of the conversation.”

So, that felt good, but I also think that also needs to tempered with making sure mana whenua are in charge because you don’t want a situation where, again, their mana is stood on by people, well meaning people, who are wanting to get this conversation going, but who haven’t understood the nuances of that history of that place or the relationships.


That reminds me of how our writer opened up his article saying how he had just wanted to pop in later in the day and posted on Facebook about this, and they said if you haven’t been powhiri’d onto Takapūwāhia Marae, you have to be there for the 10.00am powhiri. And for him, that was when he realised that how he understood the whole setting needed to change before he could even be an effective participant in it. And I thought that was really cool how he admitted these parts of his experience.

Yeah, it was a great article!


What are other sites/groups/projects that you’ve seen have an active involvement in thinking about decolonising our urban spaces, in a public or more local scale?

I think there are few projects going on. I don’t think they’ve constructed them as “decolonisation projects” but I think effectively that’s what they are.

Ngā Aho Tikanga Māori Co-Design Network have developed, a few years ago now, a set of principles called the Te Aranga Principles, which are essentially to guide urban design thinking in New Zealand. Some of them are process-driven, how you do the design, and some of them are higher level ideas or concepts, that allow people to draw down and think about what that means for the built environment. So that’s been a really interesting project. So that is now part of Auckland Design Manual. They’ve now got a Māori design lead in the design team at Auckland City Council so quite a big project going on there.

The Christchurch rebuild has been a really interesting time for Christchurch to rethink their place-identity. As most people would know, Christchurch was know as a “garden city”, that was its identity pre-earthquake, and to some extent still is, and very much modelled on an English city. Despite it being a completely destructive and horrendous set of events, [the earthquakes] has given Christchurch a chance to rethink that.

And what has happened has been a really interesting process, whereby Ngāi Tahu have set up a group called Matapopore and their role, [as] mandated by Ngāi Tahu, is to feed into all of these new design proposals for new buildings and spaces the Ngāi Tahu identity. I’m simplifying, but that’s basically what happens. […] The Tākaro ā Poi Margaret Mahy Family Playground, in the centre of Christchurch, is this lovely demonstration of Ngāi Tahu identity woven into this contemporary park.

They have a set of urban design guidelines as well, that are a set of narratives. They’re stories about different parts of Christchurch that designers have to take into account when they’re designing for that area or context.


Narratives as the form of guidelines are a really cool way of looking at it. Like, here’s the context, now design from that point…

It’s pretty innovative actually. Often guidelines are very much just concepts, as opposed to narratives. So yeah, it’s a really cool idea.


Who do you think still needs to get involved, in this conversation, in this larger movement?

Pākehā middle New Zealand. So we will never, well, not easily, get involved people who are racist. But I think there’s a group of people who are middle New Zealanders who are educated in certain things and they’ve just never had to think of these things or never had the opportunity to think about these things, and they often [think] this is not to do with me, this is not my area of interest, I have nothing to do with this. It’s those people who I think are important to bring into the conversation […]. They’re educated and they’re open to ideas but they hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about this kinda stuff before. […] I think one of the things opening up the competition to everyone did was allow people to think, okay, even as a Pākehā New Zealander, I’m allowed to be part of this conversation. I think that was a useful thing.


And now our final question, always the most challenging — what is your favourite colour?

I think I like green… almost an aqua green…


Almost-blue green?

Yeah, that gives me two colours perhaps!


About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required