Story: Urban Māori

Page 5. Urban and tribal authorities

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A new way of life

By the 1980s, the proliferation of Māori committees, clubs, and marae complexes had created a new kind of community life for city Māori, and stimulated a growing sense of being Māori in a pan-tribal and urban context. Leaders emerged who were committed to urban Māori addressing problems in their own way. A range of community-based programmes provided those in the city with skills and techniques to reorganise themselves, and better co-ordinate efforts.

Urban Māori authorities

Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust (West Auckland), founded in 1984, is one of a number of multi-tribal organisations or urban Māori authorities. Others include the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (South Auckland), Te Rūnanga o Kirikiriroa Trust (Hamilton), Te Rūnanganui o te Ūpoko o Te Ika (Wellington), and Te Rūnanga o Ngā Maata Waka (Christchurch).

These organisations have fostered the economic, social and community development of urban Māori, forging links with central government and local bodies. They are active in education, commercial ventures, health, pre-employment and other social services.

Tribal authorities

Māori tribal organisations, on the other hand, have increasingly advocated tribal self-management of resources and delivery of services. The government introduced its devolution of services to tribal authorities in the late 1980s. The short-lived Rūnanga Iwi Act 1990 empowered tribal authorities to deliver government programmes. This approach was criticised for overlooking pan-tribal organisations in urban areas.

Legal recognition for urban authorities

Urban Māori leaders have dismissed the ‘tribal’ approach as inadequate to serve the interests of many people who have no real relationship with the tribe. Urban Māori authorities have sought to be recognised as iwi (tribes) or tribal authorities in their own right so they can qualify to deliver government services. They have argued that they are better equipped, with their local knowledge and proximity, to cater for Māori in the city.

In 1994 the Whānau o Waipareira Trust made a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal for recognition as a legitimate representative of urban Māori. Subsequently there were law changes allowing the trust to assume welfare responsibilities from government agencies. This case heralded a change in the way the government viewed urban Māori authorities.

Fisheries assets

Urban Māori authorities have also challenged the proposed allocation models for the Māori Fisheries Settlement of 1992, which resulted from a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. The distribution model favoured traditional tribes. The long-standing claim has been to the highest courts in New Zealand, and to the Privy Council on several occasions.

National representation

Individual authorities have been at the forefront of advocating the rights of urban Māori. And in 2003 a National Urban Māori Authority was formed as a political voice for city-dwelling Māori.

Urban Māori as an identity

Many Māori who are third- and fourth-generation urban dwellers have lost their tribal identity. There are many more who are aware of their tribal affiliations, but have little to do with their tribes in everyday life. ‘Urban Māori’ or ‘non-tribal Māori’, therefore, is an identity increasingly being claimed.

This new identity has challenged traditional institutions, generating the sometimes divisive debate on the position of tribes and urban Māori bodies and their influence in Māori society. Urban Māori have become the ‘unmarshalled force’ which calls for fresh understandings of what it means to be Māori.

How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith, 'Urban Māori - Urban and tribal authorities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 July 2022)

Story by Paul Meredith, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 17 Feb 2015