Future Thinkers: Indigenous Representation in the Built Environment

18 February 2020

NZGBC Future Thinkers in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland kicked off the year on the 4th of February with our first event, a panel session on Indigenous Representation in the Built Environment at Bayleys House. We were joined by Elisapeta Heta, Maia Ratana, and Josephine Clarke to kōrero about how we can be better treaty partners and support the inclusion of tikanga Māori principles in the way we design and build. While I cannot put in words how moved we all were by their mahi and knowledge, I have tried to provide a brief summary of the important messages from the panellists for those who could not attend.

Elisapeta started the discussion with a presentation in which she talked about the difference between decolonisation and indigenisation; to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi we must decolonise our places by deconstructing western ideologies and making space to indigenise through inclusion and respect for indigenous knowledge. Elisapeta spoke about how a decolonised built environment will be an equitable built environment. This doesn’t mean completely rejecting western concepts and technology (she still wants to have a phone and catch the bus!) but rather mana whenua will be recognised, and our urban places will look and feel Māori.

This vision for a decolonised Aotearoa was carried through the kōrero, with education and consultation raised as areas where our industry has massive potential to move forward and improve.

Maia, Josephine and Elisapeta each spoke about the pressures they, and others like them, feel to occupy this advocacy space, often at the expense of their actual work and passions. This is a pressure pākehā are putting on them, but we have potential to ease this burden through educating ourselves first. The education system also has an important role to play in this. Our education providers must make more of an effort to be welcome, safe spaces for Māori, and to stop rewarding tokenism.

The resources at the bottom of this page from Elisapeta and others are a good place to start. It’s important to remember that the person you are leaning on for direction is probably being leaned on by a lot of people, and their knowledge is not limitless. Do your research.

The panellists discussed what good, genuine consultation looks like, and why it so important that mana whenua have input in how their whenua will be made to look and feel through our work. Genuine consultation means doing your research and finding out what the history of this land is and who the right people to consult with are. This must be the local mana whenua and cannot just be an exercise where you approach one person with your proposal and ask them to sign it off. The act of engagement isn’t enough, it’s talking with the right people and having the right discussions.

Mana whenua must be engaged in the process from the start, and relationships must be built before you ask for anything. These should be built on the principle of manaakitanga, with respect, generosity, and care. This means simple, easy things to do like making sure you provide some kai and a cup of tea when meeting with kaumātua. Reciprocity means you must give in return for the knowledge and expertise of kaumātua, by showing them respect and paying them for their time just as you would any other consultant on a project. 

The panellists also spoke about Te Aranga Māori Design Principles. If you don’t already know about these, Te Aranga Māori Design Principles were developed by Auckland Council in partnership with Maori designers as a guide for project teams to embed Māori values into the design process. Lately the media has been critical of designers who claim that they are following these principles, but don’t have any Māori designers on their teams. I asked our panellists if they think this criticism is valid, considering we want to encourage designs that follow these principles but often there aren’t enough Māori working and represented in our industry.

Elisapeta stressed that the Te Aranga Principles were developed for pākehā, not Māori, and that pākehā should use them, but that they are often disrespected and treated as a tick-box exercise, which is where this criticism is valid. They spoke about how the first principle, mana, is often so often violated and approached in an inauthentic manner where projects teams are failing to engage in genuine consultation with the people who hold mana over the land they are seeking to work in. It is this disrespect that opens you to valid criticism.

We received a valuable message that as pākehā, we need get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that our efforts to engage and be allies in the decolonisation process are appreciated, even when we make mistakes. We should not let feelings of unease and self-doubt be a barrier to upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Get comfortable with not knowing the answers and get comfortable with asking when you’re not sure. You are right to be self-critical of the outcomes of your best intentions, but if your intentions and kaupapa are good, they will be recognised.  

We would like to thank our wonderful panellist for their time and insight, and thank our sponsors Bayleys Real Estate, and Greenstone Group for supporting NZGBC Future Thinkers and helping make this event happen.

Written by Eleanor West

Photos of the night

Recent(ish) Articles

What does Māori architecture look like today? By Jade Kake on The Spinoff

The future of papakāinga: there’s no place like home by Jade Kake on The Spinoff

The buildings are ‘uniquely Aotearoa’. Their Māori designers are ignored Rebecca Kiddle on The Spinoff

How Māori principles shaped the City Rail Link's award-winning design Anthony Byrt in Metro

In practice: Te Aranga Design Principles Jacqueline Paul and William Hatton in Architecture Now


Indigenous Urbanism hosted by Jade Kake

Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge podcast series

He Kākano Ahau: Urban and Māori RNZ podcast series hosted by Kahu Kutia

The future of housing is whānau Anahera Rawiri talks to Jeremy Hansen on the Good Citizen podcast

Video blogs

Kaupapa on the Couch by Leonie Hayden


Our Voices: Indigeneity and Architecture by R Kiddle, K O’Brien, P Steward

Rebuilding the Kāinga by Jade Kake

Maori Architecture: from fale to wharenui and beyond by Deidre Brown

Books by Ranginui Walker, Aroha Harris and many others!

Facebook Groups

Tauiwi mō Matike Mai Aotearoa | Non-Māori for ending colonisation