Pathways to Transition

How Can Urban Māori Reconnect With Their Whenua?

Here's how urban Māori can use the Māori Maps platform, built upon by Mauri Whenua Ora researchers, to find their proximal ancestral marae

Kanoa Lloy returns to her ancestral marae in Tokomaru Bay on the East Cape

If you watch The Project on TV, you may have been moved by Friday night’s show, in which Kanoa Lloyd returns to her ancestral marae in Tokomaru Bay on the East Cape for the first time since she was 4 years old. (Watch a clip on Facebook or the full-length story on ThreeNow at 9:25 and 30:40.)

Kanoa is one of the 80–90% of Māori who live in cities, who Mauri Whenua Ora researchers in the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge are keen to help reconnect with their ancestral land.

Mauri Whenua Ora research has built upon the Māori Maps platform, set up a decade ago by independent charity Te Pōtiki National Trust to collect information about Aotearoa’s marae. Researcher Hirini Tane, University of Otago, says those who are inspired by Kanoa’s journey can use the Māori Maps website to locate their ancestral marae.

“I probably get three emails a fortnight from people seeking to reconnect with their land,” he says. This is the process he recommends to locate your ancestral marae:

  1. Enter your family last name, or a Māori grandparent’s name in the Owner Interest Search box on the Māori Land Online website.
  2. This will bring up the block name of any land your family has been awarded shares in by the Māori Land Court.
  3. Clicking ‘Block Name' will open a map. Zoom out on the map to find the land block’s location in context.
  4. In another tab, open the Māori Maps website and zoom in on the homepage map to find the same location. Make sure the Land Blocks layer is activated (top right of the map) and you can see the multicoloured land blocks. Clicking each land block brings up a pop-up containing the block name – match this to your family's block name on the Māori Land Online website.
  5. The black circle markers on Māori Maps indicate marae (numbers on solid black markers indicate a number of marae in a small area; zoom in). You can now select the most proximal marae to your whenua.

On The Project, Kanoa spoke about her nervousness at returning to the marae. “I feel funny being a stranger on my own whenua, like I’m halfway between in and out,” she said. “I don’t know if they will welcome me or wonder why it’s taken so long for me to come back.”

For those who aren’t ready or who don’t have the time or money to visit their ancestral marae in person yet, another form of reconnection for urban Māori and their whenua will eventually be possible – through kai.

Mauri Whenua Ora’s Pā to Plate project aims to enable descendants to purchase produce directly from their ancestral landscape. Researchers are currently working on adding iwi descendant statistics to the Māori Maps platform using census data. A pilot is being conducted with Te Rarawa in Taitokerau (Northland).

By visualising where concentrations of iwi descendants are based, Pā to Plate will be able to assist them to join the food-delivery model that is being developed.

It is hoped that when urban whanau are able to purchase and eat kai from home, this will build physical, emotional, cultural and economic connections between descendants and their land, contributing to a greater sense of belonging, security and identity as tangata whenua.

Pā to Plate will have a life beyond research funding, with an independent governance entity being set up, and a website in the early stages of conceptualisation.

Over time, this may lead to increasing numbers of urban Māori making the trip back home, as Kanoa did on The Project last week.

“It’s heartening to discover that our urban whanau want to come and reconnect, because they’ve been disconnected from tikanga Māori,” said Lois McCarthy, Te Whanau A Ruataupare, on The Project. “The marae is always open, the whanau are always ready to welcome them home.”

For more on this research project, see:


Annabel McAleer

Communications Manager, Our Land and Water. Text in this article is licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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