Building on Māori Land

A number of people have asked us for learnings from our house-building experience. We shared some of our experiences on a Te Karere news segment in February 2016. In addition to those comments we’d also add the following:

  • LOCATION: Makarika (10km south of Ruatoria, 120km north of Gisborne)
  • ORIGINAL BUDGET: $240,000
  • TOTAL BUILD COST: approx. $290,000 (including plans, consents, lawyer, geotech, build, utilities, painting, flooring, blinds, fence, etc.)
  • HOUSE VALUE: $219,000 (for removal upon completion)
  • ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNER COST: approx. $5,000 (totally recommend Shane Kingsbeer, Gisborne)
  • CONSENTS COST: approx. $5,500
  • LAWYERS COST: approx. $1,000
  • GEOTECH COST: approx. $3,500


  • It’s a lot of confusion and frustration – but ultimately worth persevering!
  • Start planning and getting things happening at least two years before you want to be living in your new home. Everything takes at least twice as long as you think it should.
  • Think collectively rather than individually. If possible, contribute to the whenua/marae years before you want to live there. Be prepared to submit yourself to the extended whānau with humility and
  • Be respectful but also assertive with all the people you need to deal with (land owners, leasees, land administrators, court officials, etc.).
  • Use experts – architects/designers (and/or resource/building consents advisors), rural plumbers are worth paying for, it saves more money later.
  • No point getting permission to build somewhere you can’t. Before finalising the preferred location to take to shareholders for their consent, check out:
    • how much it will cost to get electricity to the site (unless you’re going off-grid, then get a quote for that set-up)
    • how much it will cost to build any roads/driveway and are consents required
    • septic systems and whether they are permitted at the location
    • geotech to tell you if you’re allowed to build on the proposed site.


  • Find out how the block you want to build on is being managed – is it under Te Tumu Paeroa or whānau shareholders as responsible trustees?
  • Check what the deed governing the block says about leases – make sure it allows for leases for the term you need a mortgage for. Our block only allowed for a maximum of 10 year leases and we needed a 25 year mortgage – so had to seek shareholder support and then take it to the Māori Land Court to decide on a change to the deed. This delayed our build by 2-3 months, which could have been dealt with before we started.
  • Get to know the responsible trustees (which may be Te Tumu Paeroa staff), explain what you’d like to do and see how willing they are to support you. Without their support it’s going to be a real struggle.12115589_10153514247961273_6256565241299747332_n
  • Prepare a letter to shareholders with an explanation of who you are (how does your whānau whakapapa to the whenua, what connections have your tupuna/whānau had with the block/rohe/marae/hapū) what you want to do (including a draft plan and location on the whenua) and why you want to move there.
  • We went with a 30 year lease, though it has to be reviewed every ten years. We pay a lease fee to Te Tumu Paeroa every six months. While our part of the block is only about 1/250th of the property area, we pay 1/15th of the total lease payment – which is fair enough, if we only paid 1/250th of the total lease it would only be $60/year for the privilege of living on the whenua.


  • If Te Tumu Paeroa manage the land, they will have shareholders addresses and post your letter with a response form for shareholders to say if they support or oppose your proposal and why, or if they have any questions or conditions.
  • If you have any issues with Te Tumu Paeroa taking too long, just email the CEO directly: jamie.tuuta@tetumupaeroa.co.nz – and he’ll get his people moving.
  • For some strange reason there are two main teams in Te Tumu Paeroa regional offices – one that looks after shareholders, one that looks after leasees – and it seems that while they sit in the same office, members of the two teams often have to communicate through managers that are based in Wellington or somewhere else. Go figure.12805932_10153770105996273_1029631960435343465_n


  • The Kainga Whenua scheme relies on a tri-partite agreement between the bank, Housing NZ and responsible trustee/s – in our case Te Tumu Paeroa. Our experience was that these three organisations didn’t seem to have much knowledge of how this should work, it took weeks to finalise, which caused us more delays. With only nine mortgages being issued in six years, it’s no wonder they don’t have much understanding of their processes – but hopefully that is improving.
  • Kiwibank didn’t tell us we’d need to change the land deed until after we’d had the loan provisionally approved and got the builder to start. So then we had to stop for a couple of months sorting out the deed via shareholders, Te Tumu Paeroa and the Māori Land Court. If they’d told us six months earlier when we first approached them we could have sorted it out much sooner.
  • Housing NZ were pretty useless at communicating. It was hard to find who was responsible for dealing with our application. Just another faceless bureaucracy unfortunately.
  • Kiwibank will only make payments on invoices from the builder based on the Building Agreement signed before starting. We had a generous builder who let us just pay the building supplies directly, so this meant some work around as the builder had to include all the expenses in his invoice and in theory paid the  Council for consents, valuers, architects, etc.


  • 12963740_10153898679616273_4848939887788513344_nWe needed 20% deposit, that we had to show was spent before Kiwibank would allow any drawdown of mortgage funds.
  • Building on Māori land – maybe any new build – requires registered valuations before building and every time you want some funds to pay for each stage. Some people get a new valuation every three weeks so they can pay they tradespeople and suppliers. We restricted ours to five valuations over the nine(!) months of building because we are over 100km from the nearest registered valuer and it costs $600-800 for each valuation. In the big cities it’s only $250-300 for a progress valuation.
  • Over the nine months (especially toward the end), we had to rely on whānau and friends to provide us with bridging finance of up to $60,000 – that meant we had cash when we needed it to pay tradespeople and reduced costs by needing less progress valuations.

Anything we’ve missed? Ask questions or add comments and we’ll attempt to respond.

Connecting sewerage to the marae system

Four of my ‘co-housing’ experiences

A Twitter contact, recently asked the awesome Enspiral network about experiences of co-housing – in particular experiences and issues related to things like: interest-based intentional community; shared infrastructure; social interaction; group design/build/own… I chipped in and foolishly promised to write a blog post about my experiences. So, here it is…

There are four specific experiences that my wife Tarsh and I have had in different versions of what might be considered ‘co-housing’:

  1. a faith-based community in Wellington (1994-1998)
  2. attempts at intentional community in Gisborne (2004-2006)
  3. sharing infrastructure/resources in Gisborne (2007-2014)
  4. living on the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land at Makarika near Ruatoria (2015-)

I’ll give a brief overview of my upbringing and summarise the contexts and experiences, and at the end share some lessons I think we’ve learned along the way.

I had a fairly typical upbringing in middle-class New Zealand, raised in a two parent, two child family in Tauranga, my parents both came from large working-class Pakeha families and both had been quite independent from an early age. My father considers himself an egalitarian and has a lot of sympathy for Marx and communitarian ideas. My mother worries a lot about money and security is important to her – so she would have been very pleased they were able to build the first house they owned as 20-somethings in the late 1960s for about 1,200 pounds. She was a high school teacher with a commerce degree and he was a postie who dropped out of school at 14 to work in an engineering workshop making glasses. Their co-housing experience included building a self-contained flat in the downstairs of their new house to rent out – and potentially for elderly relatives to eventually utilise, that provided extra income and extra security. And like most Kiwi kids before the internet and console games, we did heaps with the other children and families in the neighbourhood – sharing meals, childcare and gardening tools.

In the early 1980s when I had just turned 10, Mum and Dad bought a small farm with 20 acres on the edge of the city. They joined the NZ Small Farmers Association (Dad eventually becoming President for a while) and were good gardeners and tried their hand at husbandry of various animals. It was 1984-5 and interest rates shot to 24%, so they really struggled to keep the dream alive, but they managed to keep the farm as Dad had a job in the public service (Dept of Social Welfare) and Mum worked in an educational toy shop they owned with another couple. Eventually the city expanded and the farm was acquired by the local authorities in 2001 who wanted to use the flats for stormwater run off from all the new subdivisions being built on what were previously similar small farms and orchards.

1: Urban Vision, Wellington (1994-1998)


Our wedding reception in 1998 – the old orphanage I was living in is just through the trees – a great meal was provided by our generous UV friends who gave up their day (and the night before) to help us out. All up we spent about $1,000 on the wedding and reception for 200+ guests. So cheap, in more ways than one!


After leaving school, I moved to Wellington to study design and got involved with an organisation called Youth For Christ Wellington. YFC had its origins in the conservative North American evangelical movement but the Wellington branch had become quite progressive. In addition to the youth clubs YFC had always run with volunteers, we started more focused conscientisation groups with young people and would regularly organise protests, pickets and support civil disobedience aimed at challenging the abuse of political power, oppression, injustice and violence against the poor and marginalised – whether it was Council housing tenants, young offenders, East Timorese villagers or Iraqi families. We had a number of flats of young people as well as one home for teenage girls that were unable to live with their family because it was too dangerous for the girl or because the girl had burnt her bridges (sometimes the home) with family.

Out of this came an idea to move away from YFC and form an intentional community called ‘Urban Vision‘ to develop more intentional cooperative living arrangements grounded in common interests and a faith doctrine focused on a ‘discipleship journey’ and gospel of helping those from more privileged backgrounds give up some of the opportunities and benefits of their privilege and to create opportunities for those society had marginalised to realise their full potential.

We took over an old Presbyterian orphanage that a local church had previously housed a number of young adults in. The building was ugly, cold and rundown but we turned it into a home for teenage boys supported by a group of young adult men (aged 22-40ish). We had room for 14 of us – seven teenagers and seven ‘men’. The adults paid to live there, sometimes the boys were referred Child Youth & Family Services so they had an care and accomodation allowance that contributed to their costs, other times they were referred by Police, schools or friends and didn’t have any funds to contribute.

At the same time other co-housing experiments were being established in the wider Urban Vision community with a couple of households focused on the inner-city and homeless populations, another on refugees and migrants, another group was based in the Council housing units, another provided supported accomodation for young men with intellectual disabilities and another specifically for Maori girls run by wahine Maori.

Resources in most of these co-housing arangements were shared through a household budget and those that were able to give more did so. Some had a main couple, often with small children with teenagers, with teenagers and/or single adults living with them. Some were large buildings like an old carpet factory in Cuba Street that housed 15+ people at a time, others were small 1-2 bedroom units in Council housing estates.

The Urban Vision community gathered together weekly for a shared meal, prayer, singing and collective celebrations, though eventually after we had left the ‘teams’ focused on particular communities got too large and the big UV get togethers were less frequent as much larger venues were required and the smaller teams kept meeting daily and/or weekly.

UV has continued to evolve, about ten years ago it became an ‘order’ of the Anglican church and one of the UV founders, Justin Duckworth, is now the Bishop of Wellington.

Around 2000, Justin, his wife Jenny, their family and a couple of friends involved with UV formed another trust and purchased Ngatiawa, an old Presbyterian campsite on the Kapiti Coast. This has provided accommodation and a common life together for hundred of people, young, old, single, couples, families – as well as a retreat from the city for many of the people connected to UV homes in Wellington. A number of UV members and affiliates have trades and have helped construct and renovate a dozen or so buildings including large halls and dining spaces, cabin accommodation, family homes, a chapel and other facilities. Each year Ngatiawa community hosts the Passionfest music/arts/theology/resistance/community festival.

2: Attempts at intentional community, Gisborne (1998-2006)


Before we bought the units

Moving to Gisborne in 1998 to care for Tarsh’s grandparents who raised her, was a bit of a shock. Coming out of the high commitment, high intensity of Urban Vision, I was both happy and sad – we enjoyed the opportunity to do whatever we wanted from scratch, but I missed the level of support and accountability that the intentional community provided.

We bought a house with help from my parents, and Tarsh’s grandparents and two of their sons lived with us off and on for a couple of years until her grandfather passed away in 2001.

Tarsh and I got involved with Te Ora Hou, a faith-based Maori youth and community development organisation that started as the Maori and Pasifika arm of YFC in the 1970s and became its own national organisation in the mid-90s.

While we were still heavily involved in a wide range of local community projects on both voluntary and paid roles, Tarsh was content to be doing our own thing. I was missing the sense of purpose and direction I enjoyed in the intentional community experience of UV and so we had a go at a co-housing experiment. In 2004 we had the opportunity to purchase four adjacent residences, initially we hoped to do it under the auspices of Te Ora Hou locally, in the end the TOH board were reluctant to invest in residential property so we purchased the four residences (two 3 bedroom houses and two three bedroom units) and immediately sold the units to another Te Ora Hou family and rented out one of the houses to another Te Ora Hou family before selling it to a third family.

Incidentally, we sold our original house after advertising it at three different prices: The lowest price was for first-home buyers, the next price ($10,000 higher), was for purchasers who already owned a home but planned to live in this one, and the top price (another $10,000 higher) was for anyone who just wanted to buy it as a rental ‘investment’. I still think this is how Housing NZ should arrange its sales when it flogs off unwanted properties – give preference to those who need it most and disincentives for speculators and investors.


A few years after the units had been renovated into one house

So the units sold to one of the TOH families were converted into one house by knocking a hole in the downstairs wall. The three properties were able to share a common backyard, we took turns moving each others lawns with a shared lawnmower and the kids played between them. We had meals together at least once a week. Before domestic WiFi was easily accessible we even strung ethernet cables between the three properties and shared one internet account. Sometimes we’d share a washing machine and dryer between homes, regularly had each others children in our care (to varying degrees of care, my tendency to be too relaxed and distracted probably didn’t build great confidence in my childcare services) and we would often borrow a vehicle from one of the other households.

This arrangement came to end by 2007 – one of the families was highly committed to the intentional community idea, one was not sure they wanted to be there anymore and another was having internal conflicts about the whole nature of the arrangements and the inherent tensions of doing something ‘intentional’ with some neighbours and not others.

3: Sharing resources, Gisborne (2007-2014)


So by 2008 the other two families had moved out of the neighbourhood and new families moved in. We bought the house that had been the units back off that family and shifted in, we sold the house we had been in to another young couple involved with Te Ora Hou who shared our interest in doing voluntary youth work and community activities in the neighbourhood – but without the same level of intensity we had experienced with the previous neighbours. We had another single man (an old school friend of mine who has become an uncle to our kids and our closest friend) and Tarsh’s grandmother – move into our house with us and our two children.

This arrangement worked quite well for everyone – we had childcare and a wonderful cook on tap, he got to live with and contribute to a family he loves deeply. Tarsh’s grandmother had a self-contained part of the house and company looking out for her everyday, and our kids got to experience living with their great grandmother for the last years of her life.

Over this time we continued sharing meals, backyards, lawnmowers, washing machines, surfboards, vehicles, etc. and a community garden over the back fence – but without any explicit commitment to each other beyond neighbourly sharing and caring.

Our single friend living with spent a lot of his own money helping renovate parts of the house and outside areas, he had a real investment in the family and the property – but eventually we all agreed that the season was coming to an end and he won a post-doctoral scholarship to Cambridge University so left us for the UK. After he left Tarsh’s grandmother got too frail with dementia and Tarsh made the difficult decision to let her go first to the home of an aunty and then into a nursing home just before she passed away. We had another couple of relations live with us after our friend moved out and then a year or two of just us and the kids before we sold up at the end of 2014.

4: Living at the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land, Makarika/Ruatoria (2015-)

In March 1997 when Tarsh turned 24, as her new boyfriend (as of that day) I gave her an antique builders level. We were living in Wellington, part of the newly formed Urban Vision community, and she had told me her dream was to return to the East Coast one day and build on whānau whenua (traditional family land).

Like many other Ngati Porou, Tarsh’s mum and most of her siblings, moved from the Coast to big cities for education and employment opportunities in the 1960s and 70s. Tarsh was raised by her grandparents but in her last year of high school went to live with her mother in Christchurch – which felt a long way from the East Coast – both geographically and culturally.

We had our first child, Miria, in 2002, and from an early age decided we wanted our children to have experience living in the heart of Ngati Porou on the Coast.

Gisborne is great, but it’s still very urban and Pakeha dominated. Tarsh says “We want our kids to live in a community where Ngati Poroutanga is the culture, immersed everyday in the reo, tikanga and landmarks of my tipuna. Those taonga are the birth-right of every Ngati Porou child and you can’t get them anywhere except within your own turangawaewae.”
For the last ten years we have been actively involved with Penu (Rongo-i-te-Kai) Pa, at Makarika just south of Ruatoria. I have been the marae Treasurer since 2005 and Tarsh has been stepping up to help at tangi, wananga and other activities that happen around the pa.

While we talked about planning to ‘move home’ for Miria to attend high school, it wasn’t until that time was just about upon us that the work really started.

We looked at a range of options – renting or buying a house in Ruatorea, relocating an existing building, starting with a shed, using a kitset and even building from local and recycled materials.

Penu Pa sits on the original Totaranui block that runs from Makarika to Hiruharama. Totaranui A1D2B2B is 130 hectares between State Highway 35 and the summit of Tutae-a-Whata and Tarsh’s grandmother owned ten percent of the shares in the block through her grandmother who was the original owner. The block is administered by Te Tumu Paeroa, the Maori Trustee, and leased by Tarsh’s cousin who farms most of it.

The first step was to seek support from the other 300 landowners. Te Tumu Paeroa and the Maori Land Court only have addresses for about 150 of the listed owners, so a letter from us went out to these owners asking for permission to use a small section of the block to put a house on. The overwhelming response was full support for the request.

There were a number of shareholders very happy to hear that a whanau wanted to live on the land. We don’t know most of them, but of course Tarsh is related to all of them. Many of the older ones lived here in their younger years and would like to live here again but their circumstances make that difficult.

With support from Te Tumu Paeroa, the shareholders and current leasee, we then had to find a bank willing to lend on Maori land. A government programme called Kainga Whenua is designed to help Maori build on multiply-owned land – the interest rates and deposit required are the same as any other bank but Housing New Zealand underwrites the loan for Kiwibank, so there is less risk for the lender.


Our whare designed by Shane Kingsbeer & Greg Saunders

The Kainga Whenua scheme is far from perfect and very frustrating at times. Because the bank can’t use the land as collateral they will only lend what the building is worth. Registered valuations ($800 each) must be done at each step of the build to allow the next amount of funds to be drawn down to pay for the builder, materials and sub-contractors. This adds significant costs and delays to the building process.

This probably would have had less impact if we had started the build before moving! We have been living in caravans at Penu Pa all this year waiting for the house to be built.

In many ways it’s been the perfect transition from the city to the Coast. Living in caravans at the pa has its challenges, but it’s also been like one long camping holiday for the kids and we been able to pay rent to the pa instead of someone else.

I work for clients around the country from our caravan utilising the free Nati Waiwhai internet provided to the pa by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou.

We helped establish Hikurangi Takiwa Trust, a hapu (tribal) collective for the six pa in the local area, and both have volunteered in a range of roles for the trust. There are two existing papakainga of 4-6 houses each in the hapu and a third is currently in the early stages of development. Like us they are built on multiply-owned Maori land but the buildings all belong to a trust or marae, whereas in our situation we own the building and just lease the land it sits on.

The new house is almost completed and we have built it just over the fence from the marae. This has allowed us to save some significant costs as we got marae committee and Council consent to utilise the marae septic tanks system, electricity is also close already as is vehicle access – and family visitors can use the marae communal sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities and still be close to us.

This marae has always had someone living at it, there is Nanny Lucky who still lives here she spends her days doing gardening and sleeps in the dining hall or with her son in the cottage next door. Before her we had Papa, he drank too much and caused a few issues but was always happy to see any visitors and kept the place warm for everyone else. Back in the 70s another old man lived here – that was before the new dining hall was built so he cooked his meals in the meeting house, spelt in there and had it set up like a lounge with a TV.

I think there is heaps of potential for marae to provide housing for older people who are still independent but who need somewhere to feel at home and appreciate both the history and the communal living opportunities that marae provide.

We’re living the dream and have found it’s not as hard as we thought, wish we’d done it ages ago.

While packing up our house in Gisborne last year I found the builders level I gave Tarsh when we first got together 18 years ago, we plan to display it in our new house built on whanau whenua before her next birthday.


Conclusion: Some lessons learned

  • Intentionality should be allowed to grow organically. As the great Jean Vanier has suggested, those who go looking for community probably won’t find it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – it’s just saying that those who earnestly attempt to build community sometimes try too hard and instead we should focus on nurturing caring relationships wherever we are and let the communal live emerge naturally where it will.
  • Issues around money tend to bring out the worst in people. We often think we’re entitled to more than we are, or we think someone else is taking too much, or we leave arrangements too ill-defined for fear of tackling the money matters, we conveniently ‘forget’ the details of some agreements, etc.
  • We can always share more. My parents generation were sold the Kiwi Dream – a couple, 2.4 kids, a mortgage and one or two incomes. That ‘dream’ of consumerism is a nightmare in a finite world and no good for mental health and community. Whether it is starting with the bare basics like sharing a lawnmower, creating a community garden, adding a spare room  or taking it all the way to the ‘common purse’ between a group of families and singles – there is always more to share.
  • We can always make space for others. We have a number of single friends now in their 40s who have chosen not to relentlessly pursue the societal expectations of couplehood and who challenge the dominant paradigm of what it means to be a family. Some of them enjoy living by themselves but appreciate the opportunity to participate in family life during significant times of the year like birthdays and Christmas; others can’t stand to be by themselves so have found ways to bring others into their home and/or helped create home with other single people and families. These are the people who often provide care and support for both the young and old who are too often overlooked by those of us with tight-knit nuclear families.
  • Indigenous and cooperative models are better for us and the environment. We like the idea of living on multiply-owned land – it makes decisions, plans and actions a lot harder and often adds more financial costs but can in the long run mean costs are saved to the household, community and environment. Ultimately it means we have to take others views into account and the wider implications for the community and the environment get factored in more than if we control the resources and most of the decision-making process.


Note: #4 section is a rewrite of an article we wrote for a recent edition of Nati Link magazine about our experience moving to the marae and building a new house on the land. 


Self-Helping Ourselves – As Communities


I cried this morning when I heard that another child in our community took her own life last night. That’s the fourth young person in the last year and this precious child is only a year older than our own daughter. Of course in small communities, every child is our own. These reflections and potential actions are my small way to help make sure this tragedy isn’t in vain.

Like many young people in our society, I had suicidal thoughts as a 16 year old. A girl that I liked decided she preferred someone else – I decided the world was ending and thought about how I could stop the hurt I was feeling. I don’t recall exactly what stopped me from going through with my preferred option but shortly afterwards I had a sort of spiritual rebirthing experience that gave me a new outlook on life and my place in the world, I think that helped a lot.

Over my twenty years in youth development work, the government has had numerous youth suicide prevention plans and strategies. One of the most recent initiatives, the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project came out of a major report produced for John Key by his chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. From the report’s recommendations some new government-funded services were rolled out – few of them reaching as far as Ruatoria.

So, while there is a lot of useful evidence and some published resources available in print and online, it seems the best chance we have is self-helping ourselves – as whole communities rather than as individuals.

There is a range of things I think we can do to improve the situation for our rangatahi:

  1. Specific support in the home and at school to build their emotional intelligence and healthy cognition: helping young people understand their feelings better and correct unhelpful and untrue thoughts;
  2. More information and encouragement for young people to support each other in helpful ways with the challenges of everyday life and in tough times.
  3. Authentic and helpful expressions of care from adults: Every young person needs adults in their life they can trust and talk to about complicated things, and often these adults won’t be their parents. They can be relatives or neighbours, coaches or employers… and unlike new government regulations, they don’t need to be vetted, qualified or certified to provide genuine care.
  4. Better information for adults: Parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours, coaches, teachers, employers and grandparents need better information about how to raise healthy young people in a fairly sick society. There is heaps of useful guidance for the universal foundations of positive youth development – and some good information on approaches that work best for specific genders, cultures and other groups.

I’m keen to put some more energy into all the above, in the hope our community may be spared another loss like we have experienced today. 

Anyone keen to help or got better suggestions? 

Now is a time to grieve and to make some commitments.


More Bureaucracy = Less Community

Four years ago the Government produced the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. Nearly 10,000 submissions were made on the Green Paper and in response, the Government released the White Paper for Vulnerable Children with the Children’s Action Plan in October 2012.

I helped write a submission on the Green Paper and was pleased to see some of the suggestions we made got a nod in the White Paper – particularly around focusing on villages and neighbourhoods as the most significant sites to invest in for child protection. The big disappointment was that – despite all the evidence on why focusing on the community is the best approach to keep kids safe – few of these ideas made it into the White Paper and only one initiative (working with a handful of existing providers of volunteer-based mentoring programmes) seems to have any resourcing in the Action Plan.

Communities have a role to play in stepping up to support children, their families and wha-nau, so they can succeed and look after themselves.

Research shows us that a strong community around a child, family or wha-nau plays a critical means of building resilience and supporting vulnerable families earlier. Some of our most vulnerable communities are well known, such as refugee and migrant groups, and some specific rural and urban neighbourhoods.

There are good examples of promising community initiatives where communities generate solutions to better connect and support vulnerable children, families, wha-nau, hapu- and iwi to succeed. However, many communities still need more leadership, information and guidance to play their role in better supporting vulnerable children, and their families and wha-nau.

Stronger communities can also be achieved through local government providing strategic leadership to support communities coming up with solutions for their most vulnerable children, and their families and whanau.

(source: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2011)

What did make it into the Action Plan and has been funded is business as usual responses – more professionals, more administrators, more agency-centric approaches to issues that can’t be solved by paying more people to look harder for children at risk and work with families to prepare safety plans and run more checks on other professionals.

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

I just received a response to my Official Information Act request asking how much has been spent on the new Children’s Teams – a new iteration of Strengthening Families, only families are less involved in the decision-making. It turns out nearly $5 million has been spent to date so that “trained people in the community refer children to local professionals who work with families/whanau to help and support the child.”

The rhetoric is lovely, but looking behind the warm, fluffy titles, the reality is more bureaucracy and a less caring community. ‘Children at the centre of what we do’ sounds great, but it really means families are less empowered, professional ‘carers’ are given more powers and responsibilities, more ‘systems’ are required to manage the professionals and more administrators paid to administer the systems. Paying people to support social development is fine, but the emphasis and focus is all wrong. When you read what the government means by ‘child centred’ it turns out to be all about more people being paid to manage problems – they even call the people writing plans for ‘vulnerable’ children the ‘Lead Professionals’.

‘Working Together, Sharing Responsibility’ sounds interesting, but turns out to be about professionals being organised by a new level of bureaucracy under the Children’s Teams banner and a national hotline for people with concerns about children (in other words, rebranding the 0508 FAMILY phone line that CYF has used for more than 15 years).

Since the 1980s the emphasis for government-funded social development in New Zealand has been on ‘professionalising the (social work) workforce’, and commercialising community organisations so they run more like businesses – with strategic plans full of mission statements, business plans and a ‘customer’ or ‘client’ focus. Ironically the Puao-Te-Ata-Tu inspired 1989 Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act had a strong focus on community, whānau, hapū and iwi leadership in the care and protection of children – instead the trend has been consistently toward increasing the role of agents of the state, whether they are Child Youth & Family staff or ‘community’ organisations carrying out the work that the Ministry of Social Development or more recently Whānau Ora Commissioning agencies want them to do on behalf of the state.

The other major plank of the Action Plan is legislation requiring anyone who works with children to undergo Police-vetting, yet another exercise in over-regulation and bureaucracy – especially when you consider who does the abusing of children – recent studies have suggested the figures for those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years are something like: 11% is by a stranger, 30% by a male relative (other than child’s father or stepfather), 16% by a neighbour or acquaintance, 13% by the father or stepfather and 15% by another known person – a proportion of these will be the paid or volunteer adults in a childcare, school, sports, community or youth work context. So, I’ve asked for information on how much government money is being spent on establishing and implementing this new regulation – that won’t include all the extra time required by all the agencies and organisations that now have to get their workers checked.

So from my perspective, some of the initiatives being rolled out through the Action Plan are totally the wrong way to go, others may have some merit but the main point is that nothing of significance is being put into helping shift the culture of our neighbourhoods and villages where families and children live, work and play everyday.

Investment needs to be at the street level, not at a city or regional level that trusting relationships are nurtured and the forces against that are great – from the increasing individualism of consumer culture to the disempowering reliance on paid professionals to solve problems that must be addressed by families and neighbourhoods if they are to have any chance of enduring change.


Manufacturing Content: Choosing the News

Kiribati has made an urgent appeal to the UN Security Council for help in combating climate change. Photo: Radio NZ

Kiribati has made an urgent appeal to the UN Security Council for help in combating climate change.
Photo: Radio NZ

Freya Mathews from La Trobe University in Australia, wrote a provocative opinion piece a few years ago – suggesting the news media “treats nature as a backdrop to the dramas and delights of human life.” Mathews suggests in the 21st century, human dramas are driving nature’s destruction, and that destruction threatens an end to our delights.

The environmental crisis unfolding all around us seems to be far less important to local, national and global news companies. On the same day that scientists publish a report in Nature journal revealing that even pasture-based beef is unsustainable, The Gisborne Herald reports on the national rugby team planned visit and a court case about a local man tricking boys into sending naked pictures of themselves. Other news about the global environmental disaster that didn’t rate a mention on the day included the link between mass migration from Africa to Europe driven by climate change, an estimate that inaction on climate change will cost US$44 trillion, and climate refugees plea for help from New Zealand.

Mathews recounts a similar story about news of unprecedented ocean acidification that is leading to complete breakdown in the marine ecosystems barely being noted between a shooting and a report on sports hooligans. “I was left in stunned disbelief at the way our news media are registering and representing the unfolding chronicle of our planet’s actual – no longer merely prospective – ecological collapse.”

Likewise, I wonder are we all completely mad? Are we more interested in a sports team visit and dirty young man than evidence of the unravelling of our primary industry and it’s contribution to the global climate crisis?

“Isn’t it time to examine the criteria of significance that guide the daily construction of “the news”? asks Mathews. “The news has, after all, assumed the status of supreme arbiter of significance in our society: almost everyone stops everything at least once a day to listen to the news. No other source of information currently enjoys such prestige and currency.”

But isn’t this prestige being squandered, if those responsible for the news focus generally on items of relative triviality while ignoring the literally earth-shattering changes that are occurring at an accelerating pace all around us? Images spring irresistibly to mind of people in the brightly lit lounges of the Titanic gossiping animatedly about scandals in politics and religion while around them the vast forces of nature are closing in.

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988) by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky looked closely at the way the news industry constructs their product and who’s interests are being served. In the documentary by the same name, Chomsky is giving a lecture and touches on some of these issues:

“Sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political, environmental or social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.”

“Perhaps the newspapers that arose to express the assumptions of the industrial, pre-environmental era (mid-19th to late-20th century) are now merely relics of an age that has passed. And perhaps this is true of many other contemporary current affairs outlets as well, whether print or on-line. Most such publications and outlets carry over the 19th century assumption that the natural world, perennial and relatively unchanging, is mere backdrop to the sizzling dramas of human society. With this 19th century assumption goes the further assumption that what happens within the realm of nature is not our responsibility: nature looks after itself and we cannot intervene in its intricately ordered webs of eaters and eaten without upsetting the whole kit and caboodle.”

“Our media, still so inveterately old-fashioned despite the much-trumpeted technical revolutions in delivery, do not reflect this shift and are tragically failing to convey it” claims Mathews. “Instead they are creating the impression that items about the ecological collapse of the planet are on a par, in terms of moral significance, with everyday items about crime, celebrities, scandals, financial vicissitudes, trends in lifestyle.”

“Perhaps this is the deeper reason why our newspapers, and web sites based on them, are rapidly losing relevance. As they strive to cater more and more blatantly to what they imagine are the tastes of the market, they lose their entitlement to names like ‘guardian’, ‘leader’, ‘tribune’ or ‘courier’, let alone ‘herald’. They become instead mere ‘tattlers’, purveyors of tittle tattle, to which people instinctively pay little serious attention.

At the very least, the 19th century category of ‘the news’ needs to be thoroughly overhauled. Headlines need to be reserved for what matters most, and the truly earth-shattering developments that mark our “times” need to be properly ‘heralded’, not relegated to low-key, special-interest sub-spots uninvitingly labelled ‘science’ or ‘environment’ in the depths of labyrinthine web sites or in the back pages of old-style newspapers.”

DIY Decolonisation


Nigel Brown “I am Pakeha”, 2008, oil on board

My good friend Dr Damian Skinner presented these reflections at a little conference on the Treaty of Waitangi yesterday. He doesn’t do social media but said I could share the text, I’m interested to see what others think about his suggestion we urgently need a Pākehā conversation…

Treaty on the Ground – Summary Notes by Dr Damian Skinner

I wanted to begin by talking about some of the connections I have professionally and personally with the TOW, as a way of identifying the various meanings of that phrase that have been circulating in this conference over the last two days.

When I work here at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, I am employed by an institution that is subject to an Act of Parliament that mentions the TOW. I brush up against formal policy documents like He Korahi Māori, which develop strategies for reflecting the TOW in the museum’s daily activities. I work in a context that has been shaped by a history of museums and cultural institutions grappling with the changing expectations of Māori when it comes to taonga, a history we might call the ‘Te Māori’ effect, and which is also affected by the principles articulated by the Waitangi Tribunal. I also think the TOW is present in more personal, less institutionally sanctioned experiences, like a twenty minute conversation I had near the start of my time here, with a Pākehā colleague, in bad te reo Māori, about whether the tūpuna in the Māori natural history galleries mind us taking food in sealed containers through their space, on our way to the staff room.

As an art historian working outside the Auckland Museum, I brush up against the TOW whenever I encounter and talk about the politicization of cultural dynamics, where claims about, for example, artistic designs and who owns them can’t be easily separated from claims to other resources, in part because of the Waitangi Tribunal process. And then there is the more direct impact of Tribunal report, especially the Wai 262 claim, which was brought up in the discussion yesterday. This came at the same time that I was thinking through the problems of writing a book about whare whakairo, meeting houses, and for me it crystalised the problem of academic ambitions divorced from communities and the descendants of the taonga I wanted to write about.

As a DIY promoter of Pākehā decolonization, I have a contract with the Gisborne Kindergarten Association to work with ECE teachers to address the question of how a Pākehā organization can serve Māori kids and their whānau – and exactly what a Pākehā organization (in a good, decolonized sense) might be. (No one really seems to know.) In this work, I encounter the TOW as an historical event, but more importantly as a history of thinking and negotiating between Māori and Pākehā, as a name for the principles that have been developed by the Waitangi Tribunal. These principles, and the history that sit behind them, act as a trigger to challenge Pākehā privilege. It is the mention of the TOW in various educational policies discussed by Te Kawehau Hoskins this morning, and in the formal documents of the Gisborne Kindergarten Association, that makes this a necessary process, even if not every Pākehā teacher initially sees its relevance or urgency.

Finally, at home, I can see the TOW at work in conversations about whether the kids are Māori and Pākehā, or Māori with Pākehā whakapapa (that one ended with a furious argument about blood quantum in US law); what it means to pursue decolonization in your domestic environment (don’t wash the tea towels with the undies); the necessity of Pākehā to support te reo Māori (still in decline, as Michael Dreaver noted); how local councils behave, and how they continue to actively resist the aspirations of Māori (there used to be a local body councillor); how ECE operates, and fails the needs of Māori children, and the difference between the kōhanga reo movement and puna reo movement (there is a Māori ECE teacher); how art history operates and art historians behave, and what it can possibly mean for a Pākehā art historian to say he is committed to the TOW and continue to write about Māori art (that’s me); and finally in all the endless tensions and domestic politics of a Pākehā living with a Māori whānau in a predominantly Māori community that, being mostly state housing for the labour requirements of the local freezing works and Wattie’s cannery, is a geographic and social reminder of the legacy of TOW breaches that, in a little over 50 years turned Māori land into Pākehā land. (It used to be called Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, and now it is called Gisborne.)

I would say all of these things come under the umbrella of the TOW. They make up the totality of what I mean when I say on my CV that I am committed to the Treaty, and to working out what it means to be a Pākehā partner in the Treaty process. I see many speakers over the last two days talking about an equally wide range of subjects; to tackle this diversity is exactly what we must mean when we say Treaty on the Ground. The TOW isn’t primarily, for me, a process of redress between the Crown and Māori for historical and contemporary breaches of the TOW, but rather it is a short hand for a decolonization process in which the task is to challenge the invisibility and power of Pākehā privilege. At first, when I realized this was a disconnect in this conference – there seemed too much focus on the TOW as a Crown thing, and not enough of what people were doing with it on the ground – I wondered if we shouldn’t discard the phrase TOW to get to these other dimensions. But after a lunch time discussion with my esteemed colleague on this panel, and another esteemed colleague at the Auckland Museum, I remembered that holding onto the idea of the TOW connects us to history – to a signing in 1840, but also to a history of breaches, of Pākehā behaving badly, of principles generated at a specific moment in time, from certain social and political conditions. And in turn this guarantees the urgency and irrevocability of the process. To decolonize successfully, Pākehā need two things: a patient Māori to explain how things really are, and a reason to look at history. The TOW brings both to the table.

I have really enjoyed the way in which this conference has evoked the texture of the period 1970 to 1990, as each speaker has contributed to the building up of a pattern of life that includes events, people, places and landscapes, language, ideas and values – even down to details of social life, such as what people wore, ate and did. The richness of this representation has been inspiring, and productive. To take a small personal example, Kim Workman’s comment that a spectacle of biculturalism led to the proliferation of Māori art in corporate foyers. I have written about some of these artists, but I have never identified the government’s shallow commitment to the baubles of biculturalism as one of the conditions of their practices.

But this also raises the question of Pākehā in this process, something that I think became spectacularly visible with Michael Dreaver’s talk – partly because suddenly there was an actual Pākehā to question (instead of a faceless entity called the Crown, or equally shadowy government Ministers), but also because I got to see a Pākehā practice, a Pākehā way of acting, a parallel to Māori ways of living the Treaty that have been discussed and presented over the last two days.

There isn’t a lot of room for Pākehā like me in the TOW if we’re talking a negotiation between the Crown and Māori. Obviously the Crown represents me, and the Crown’s actions have privileged me and my family. I believe that a big part of decolonization is linking your own history to the breaches of the TOW – tracking your personal connection to a process in which Aotearoa starts off as Māori land and ends up as New Zealand, a quarter-acre paradise for Pākehā. Overall, I have been struck by the lack of Pākehā actors in this conference. There are Māori, and there is the government. Māori initiated the challenge that disrupted settler indigeneity in the 1970s and 1980s, but some Pākehā have also, in different ways, lived a history of taking the TOW seriously, wrestling with its implications privately and publicly. I don’t think Pākehā can expect a pat on the head and a gold star for our contribution. There’s no A for effort here. But we need to find a way to challenge the idea that the TOW is a Māori issue, or the idea that biculturalism, its flawed and fascinating fruit, is a Māori problem. All the cultural institutions I’ve ever encountered are filled with Māori staff who run the cultural sensitivity training and who are responsible for articulating what biculturalism means. This just lets Pākehā off the hook. The Treaty on the Ground is going to require Pākehā to step up and shrug off the invisibility cloak of whiteness. As April Bennett said to a question from the audience this morning about Pākehā in all this, kia kaha e hoa mā. Go forth and gather together the resources that already exist, the people who are already committed, and start making a Pākehā conversation happen. As I was told once, around the dinner table, the biggest problem facing Māori is Pākehā. So what are we going to do about that?

Inside Out Resources


I went to see the Disney/Pixar film Inside-Out with my nine year old son and his mates the other night.

I’ve made these little resources to help us explore some of the concepts in the film with our kids.

Let me know what you think.

Download: InsideOut Resources

Psychologist Nigel’s review of “Inside Out”:

Quite simply… it’s genius. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the cleverest things Disney Pixar have ever made. It’s funny, engaging, sad, joyful, intelligent, and loads of other things as well.

The psychologist in me found it utterly compelling because they’ve very cleverly taken some very complex stuff and made it accessible and engaging for a wide range of ages. The theories underpinning the movie are sound, but the genius is how they’ve taken all that somewhat dry research and turned it into such a fantastic storyIf you have kids who are having a struggle with something in their life, or have struggled with something, or may at some point in the future struggle with something, then this is a must see.

I took my 15 and 12 year old along, and they both enjoyed it. Indeed my 15 year old said that it would have been really helpful for him when he was a little guy struggling with moving town and changing schools and all that stuff.

If you can see this with your kids, you absolutely should. If you can’t afford to see it at the movies then wait till it’s released on DVD and see it then.

I’d predict this movie is going to achieve a special kind of status. It’s more than just a movie… it’s something else entirely.

This is, no contest, the best animated film I’ve ever seen. You’ll watch this with your kids, and then you’ll talk about their emotional life afterwards. Trust me, you will.

How amazing is that?