This piece by Moana Jackson (who passed away in March this year) is based on a keynote address that he gave at the Shift Aotearoa Conference in 2019. 

It’s now a chapter in a new book Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua: Māori Housing Realities and Inspirations, published by Bridget Williams Books.

Here, Moana talks about a Māori notion of home, how the Treaty offers a shared sense of home — “it gives people from somewhere else a chance to make a home in this land”.  And how constitutional transformation to remake this country into the kind of place the Treaty envisaged will mean that, “not only will everyone be housed, they will be homed in this place.”


Whenever I hear about people sleeping in cars or under bridges and so on, it’s always talked about as a housing crisis but it’s never talked about as houselessness. It’s always talked about as homelessness.

There’s a conflation between house and home, and what I’d like to talk about rather more than the house part is the home part. Home is a concept of place, a concept of belonging, a concept of being; and one of the difficulties I think we have in the area of homelessness in this country is that we haven’t yet clarified what it means to be at home in this land.

The destruction of the Māori idea of being at home is still raw, so there’s a rather tenuous and sometimes nervous discussion about what home means. But it seems to me if we can think about the idea of home as a place to which we can all belong, as a place upon which we can all stand, then the idea of housing falls more easily into place.

It seems to me that if we as a country can clarify the idea of home, then we might reach a point that I call “he whakaaro kāinga tika”; that is, a righteous sense of being at home. And by “righteous” I don’t mean some quasi-​religious sense of purity, but rather an understanding of what is tika and what is appropriate and right in this land.

To talk about that, I’m going to do something that I often do. I’m going to try to tell some stories and sort of wander off on different tangents, but I will come back to the idea of colonisation and the Treaty.

When I go wandering when I talk I’ve never known what it was called. I didn’t know there was a term for it — I thought it was just me being disorganised — but last week we were up home on our marae, sadly for the tangi of a cousin, and one night I went for a walk, which I often do, trying to think through what I was going to say.

And one of my mokopuna who is 14 years old came with me, and like all 14-​year-​olds, she kept interrupting my chain of thought by chatting away. Then she asked me about this hui and what I was going to talk about. And I said, “I told the organisers I’d talk about colonisation and the Treaty but I’ll probably wander off and talk about other things,” and she said “aww . . . are you going to riff?” And I’d kind of heard the word but I didn’t know what it meant and I said “what’s riffing?” She said “that’s what you do all the time; you start here and you end up over there . . . and then you come back over here.”

And I said “aww . . . riffing, that’s a cool term.” She said “it’s like blues music” — because she knows I like the blues — “it’s like blues music, when a musician will just take off from the main tune and play something quite different but then come back and play the main theme of the song again.” So if you will bear with me, I’m going to riff.

What I’d like to talk about first is a Māori notion of home. And I’d like to begin with the words of a great Māori man called Harry Dansey, who was from Te Arawa and who was the Race Relations Conciliator.

Among his many talents, Harry was also a playwright, a poet, and a great orator, and one of the plays he wrote, called Te Raukura, was about the Crown attack on Parihaka and the exiling of the people from Parihaka, notably the leaders Te Whiti and Tohu, down to Dunedin.

And he wrote this amazing play about what happened and then the final return to Taranaki; and it’s the words that he has the narrator speak about the return that to me sum up what I think is a Māori notion of home. He has the narrator say:

And so at last the exiles were brought home
And saw again the mountain of their dreams
And stood upon the earth they loved so well.

There are four things in those words that I think are important to a notion of home that is embedded in this whenua and grows from this land. The first is “mountain”, because the mountain that they saw was of course Taranaki. The second is “dreams”: they saw again the mountain of their dreams.

And for me, a notion of home necessarily has to be related to the mountain that determines who you are; the mountain that sits at the centre of your identity; the mountain that you can look up to in times of triumph and trouble; the mountain that sets the heights to which mokopuna should aspire. So there are mountains and dreams.

The other two things that I think are important are from the line: “and stood upon the earth they loved so well.” And the important words are “earth” and “love”.

The notion of home must be as deeply rooted in the earth as are the mountains. It must take its understanding and its strength from the earth that is our mother.

And a notion of home must be built on the idea of love: a deep and abiding sense of love that comes from belonging, that comes from a certainty of place and a comfort in that place.

And so, for me, a Māori and an iwi notion of home is built on those four things: it is related to a mountain; it is a site from which one can dream different dreams; like the mountain, it is sourced in the land to which the people and their whakapapa belonged; and it is sourced, most of all, in love.

Those four things are all interconnected, and so for me the notion of home within kaupapa Māori is a relational understanding. It depends upon relationships, and if the relationships are strong, if the ties that bind people together are secure, then whatever house they build to be at home in on their whenua will be secure.

And for hundreds of years in this country, Māori people were secure and at home. We did not build great mansions, huge temples, because the temples were in the land. We saw no need for mansions: the need was to secure the wellbeing and the love of those to whom we belonged.

It was that sense of home, that sense of being tangata whenua — people of the land — which most of all I think kept our people safe, vibrant and forward-​looking, and able to look forward because we were confident in the lessons of our past.

And then something called colonisation happened. I remember a few years ago when Tariana Turia was in parliament she talked about colonisation as a holocaust, and she talked about it as a home invasion, and on both points she was roundly criticised.

The prime minister at the time tried to ban Māori from using the word “holocaust”, which is one way to ensure that Māori would continue to use it, of course. But in all the many definitions of colonisation — a system of dispossession that takes away the lives, lands and power of a people — it seems to me they all come back in the end to the destruction of a place that people call home. Colonisation was literally a home invasion.

One of the things I like to do when I riff is refer to poetry. And some poetry is really good, can move one to new thoughts; and some poetry is really bad. The early colonisers wrote really, really bad poetry. This is a poem written by an early coloniser addressed, with that supreme sort of arrogance that colonisers had, to all of us.

And at the time that he wrote it, we weren’t very often called Māori; we were never called Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Ātiawa, whatever — we were called “New Zealanders”. We were the New Zealanders. So this is part of the poem he wrote:

Fear not New Zealander! we do not come
With hostile feelings but with all good will;
Though we adopt your country as our home,
’tis but to teach you industry and skill; . . .
Too long indeed in darkness have ye pined,
Been long enslaved by superstition’s chain;
Rejoice! We’ve come your fetters to unbind.

The poem is shocking. The sentiment is to me an apt summary of colonisation. “Although we adopt your country as our home”: this is perhaps the supreme euphemism, because they did not adopt our country as their home, they took our home and made it theirs. And the destruction which ensued from that cannot be separated from the issues of houselessness and homelessness that we are all working to alleviate.

But if we are to alleviate it, it’s important, I think, that we look back in order that we might look forward. When you take away the whenua from a people who regard themselves as tangata whenua; when you take away their ability literally to touch the mountains; if you limit their ability to dream their own dreams; if you take away the earth upon which they stood with love; then you render them homeless in the most complete sense.

And even if they later built houses — and by the mid-​20th century, with the move of our people into the cities, many shifted into what were then called state houses — the sense of homelessness was not alleviated because the whenua upon which the house stood was most probably no longer theirs.

So they were housed, but they were not homed — and that, I think, is the difficulty that we still face today, except there are even fewer of our people actually housed. They’re now not just houseless, but their homelessness is exacerbated. And all that resulted from what sometimes is called the “urban drift” or the “urban migration”.

If you take anything at all from what I’m trying to say I’d be really pleased if you took away a commitment not to use the term “urban drift”, because our people didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and say “I think I’ll just drift to Auckland; I think I’ll just drift to Porirua”.

The move of our people from the patches of rural whenua that we had managed to hold was driven by deliberate colonising policies that began in the Second World War with the passing of the National Emergency Regulations, which moved Māori from the country to work in what were then called “essential wartime industries”.

While they were working in the cities, a new tranche of legislation was passed, including variations on the Town and Country Planning Act and other land-​related legislation, which made it more difficult to build houses on what officials called “communally held Māori land”.

So the first group of people who were moved to provide essential services during the war were unable to return because they were not allowed to build a house on their land at home.

Then with the rise of manufacturing industries and so on after the Second World War, a cheap labour pool was required and Māori were to be that cheap labour pool. You can follow the deliberate development of government policies to move people into the low-​paid labour force in those new industries.

And when there were no longer enough Māori to power those industries, of course people from the other Pacific islands were brought here to bolster the labour supply. And so they moved into the cities: distanced from the mountains; distanced from their own piece of earth; often living in state-​provided houses; often in sub-​standard rental houses.
That for me was the post-​Second World War colonisation; the second stage of moving our people away from the whenua, housing them but not recognising how they could be homed. And we deal with the consequences of that still.

Some of you may be old enough to remember that in the 1980s I was involved in research on why there were so many Māori people in prison; why at that stage over 50 per cent of the male prison population was Māori.

In the course of that research, we established what we thought was quite a clear link between the shift of our people into the cities away from what gave them stability, what gave them love, into a quite different environment. The rise in the prison population began in the 1950s and you can track that gradual rise through to the 1980s. As people became homeless they became more vulnerable and one response to that vulnerability was to put them on a pipeline to prison.

When we did the research in the 1980s, people didn’t talk about “a pipeline”. There was simply a history of Māori children being taken from their whānau and placed in what at the time were called “social welfare homes”. If ever there was a term that’s contrary to the whole notion of being homed, it’s the notion of a “social welfare home”, where children — young boys and girls — were physically and sexually abused, violently mistreated.

And what had previously been a sense of homelessness was overlaid with an even more destructive misunderstanding about what the word “home” even meant. Because for literally hundreds of those children, home became not a place of safety and warmth, but a place of terror and violence.

In the last four years, we’ve been doing research to see if anything has happened in the last 30 years that is different. This is some of the most distressing and difficult work I’ve been involved in. Because the number of men in jail has remained about the same. Our men make up roughly 52 per cent of the prison population.

The change is that while in the 1980s, Māori women made up less than 15 per cent of the female prison population, they are now 64 per cent. This makes our women — per capita — the most imprisoned group of women in the world. And that’s I think a shameful statistic.

In the course of this research, we’ve talked to just over 600 Māori men and women who have been in prison, and there are some interesting home-​related statistics. All of them are children or grandchildren of people who were shifted into the cities. So they grew up in a place that was not home.

But in the last 30 years, that homelessness has been exacerbated by the effects of neoliberalism, and many of these people were taken from their parents as well, and placed in state facilities and subjected to abuse. Of those 600 people, only 53 had parents who owned their own homes. When neoliberalism hit and rents were raised, the manufacturing industries which had brought their parents or grandparents into the cities were gutted; and then those people had no sense of home at all in terms of a place. And some of the saddest stories beside the horrendous stories of abuse and suffering were when these people talked about being packed up in the van and shifting around as their parents tried to find work.

And so they travelled around and their parents tried to find work, often sleeping in their cars and vans. That Māori would be homeless in that sense became a stark reality to overlay on top of the generalised homelessness that colonisation created.

The consequences were almost predictable in their sadness. Families struggled to survive. The violence of colonisation was internalised within the violence of neoliberalism. And the previously unknown wrong of domestic violence and abuse began to appear.

Some fathers of the 600 people we spoke with went to Australia to find work, leaving the mother with the children. The stresses then imposed on those families led almost inevitably to the pipeline, and then to prison. And of those 600 people, only seven own their own homes.

So while they grew up in whānau where only a tiny minority owned homes, even fewer of them do now. What I called the cycle of confinement is continuous. Bound by poverty, bound by a divorcing from their whenua and the mountains, they live out homelessness in its most extreme sense.

Of the 290-odd women that we spoke to who had been imprisoned, nearly all have raised and are raising children as solo mothers. Many of the fathers of those children are in jail. Twenty-​two of those women had their babies taken at birth by the state: a state that was unable or unwilling to properly support people and provide housing and the necessities that help a family to be stable. That same state assumed the right to take babies from those mothers at birth.

And one of the most colonising developments under neoliberalism is to see, as I saw recently, and you would have seen in the media, the hospital in Hastings locking the midwives out but allowing three male police officers and three staff from Oranga Tamariki into the delivery room in order to take the baby at birth.

It seems to me that the notion of “not being at home” reaches its tentacles out in all sorts of destructive ways. I kind of got put in my place that night. I just happened to be in Hastings and one of the midwives is a whanaunga.

I don’t often tell people I’m a lawyer — when I see what lawyers regularly do, I’m reminded of a line in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. He has one of the characters say “the first thing we do, we kill all the lawyers”, and I’d have a certain sympathy with that. But when the two midwives went to access the delivery room — the hospital had blocked their swipe cards so they couldn’t get in — I sauntered up to the desk and it was one of the rare occasions that I said “I’m Moana Jackson, I’m a lawyer”, thinking that that would open the door.

And the lovely young woman behind the desk said “oh, I know who you are; you can’t come in”. So that family sat in the carpark with the midwives and some people from the iwi rūnanga while the young mother struggled to keep her baby.
I mention that incident, and I mention the findings of the criminal justice research, because for me they are part of that destruction of the notion of home. In the last part of my riff I’d like to talk about what I think we might do about that, and what I hope you might be able to consider in your deliberations.

The first point I’d like to make is that I think the notion of wellbeing — as currently promoted by the government with its Wellbeing Budget — is actually a contradiction in terms within a neoliberal ideology: I don’t think you can have collective wellbeing if there are so many individuals who are suffering. And so one of the first things that I think needs to take place, in the broader scheme of things, is a conversation about a different political ideology.

Few political ideologies, and certainly none in this country since 1840, have been as destructive as neoliberalism. It has, as you all know, created or elevated a small wealthy elite and impoverished the majority, and far too many of those impoverished are Māori.

In order to change a political ideology, I think, as with all things in this country, we eventually must begin with the Treaty of Waitangi. And now I have finally reached what I was supposed to talk about.

What the Treaty actually offers, I think, is a shared sense of home: it gives people from somewhere else a chance to make a home in this land. It gives people a chance to discover what the poet Allen Curnow said is “the trick of standing upright here”.

Māori people had hundreds of years before 1840 to learn that trick: how do we find tūrangawaewae in this land, how do we stand upright in these islands, how do we create a sense of home? And because home is based in my view on those four things — of mountains, dreams, earth and love — then the understanding of home became whakapapa-​based, became relational, and the Treaty offered a different relationship to the people who came here after it.

The research into the criminal justice system has expanded on the question we asked in the 1980s; from “why do you think there are so many Māori in jail?” to include research in Australia, Canada and the United States. This has given us another question: “Why do countries with a history of colonisation imprison so many Indigenous peoples?”, which opens up a whole different area of research.

Because the ideas of homelessness, the figures for incarceration, are the same for Indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada and the United States as they are for those here. And that either leads one to say “well, all Indigenous peoples must be born with some criminogenic gene or something”, or, “there’s something in the notion of colonisation which deprives Indigenous peoples of their sense of home” and “there’s something in the need of the colonisers to control and criminalise those they’re dispossessing which leads to the current state of mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples”.

But before we did that research, I was involved in a project that was organised by the Iwi Chairs Forum and a number of leading Māori organisations, to look at what essentially was a different political discourse. It was broader than just moving away from neoliberalism; it was to find a means of constitutional transformation, a way in which this country could be governed that reflected the relationships envisaged in the Treaty of Waitangi.

And in the five years that we were involved in that research, one of the things we did was ask rangatahi to tell us what they thought that would look like. There was an amazing stream of rangatahi hui organised by other rangatahi and I was fascinated by the way they elicited information. It was much more exciting, much more technologically driven than what we did.

But of the hundreds of rangatahi who attended those hui throughout the country, very few talked about constitutional models. What they talked about was the values that should underpin a Treaty-​based relationship.

Three of the values I think are particularly relevant here, and they relate to the values identified in Harry Dansey’s verse. The first value was that there must be respect for the earth. And people say “well, how do you incorporate that into a constitution — isn’t a constitution about how a country is governed?”

Yes, it is, but a constitution should also have a values base, and in the country of Bolivia, when they drafted a new constitution just over a decade ago, they did just that. The first article in the new Bolivian constitution was what they called the prime law of Pachamama, and Pachamama is their Indigenous word for mother earth — the same word as Papatūānuku.

If you have a constitution that begins with its prime law being the protection and valuing of mother earth, then the way you govern is different. The decisions you make are different. And those young people sensed that — that if there is a sense of love and reverence for the land, then the way we live on that land, over time, is different. And whether that was motivated by the fear of climate change or just an innate Māori sense that it was the right thing to do, it became in our report the prime value of constitutional transformation.

If you care for the earth, then you care for the people of the earth. The principle becomes not “no gain without pain” but rather “gain, with a minimum of hurt”. Because humans have this dreadful capacity to hurt each other, but if we care for the earth, then we develop a collective caring for each other. And so the second value the young people identified grew from the first: the notion of aroha and manaakitanga — that a constitution should reflect love and caring for each other. If that happens, then people are properly homed. They are not just properly housed, but are helped to feel at home in this land.

And so the third value is to encourage a conversation about what it means to be at home; what it means to stand upright in this land; how we create a relational sense of obligation. If the people have reciprocal obligations to each other, among those is the need to ensure that everyone is homed.

When we wrote the report on those five years of discussion — the report is called Matike Mai if you haven’t seen it, it’s online — we tried to bring all of those ideas together to create what in the report is called “a Treaty-​based society”. In order to give constitutional and political effect to a Treaty-​based society there need to be changes, transformations, in the mechanics of politics and the way in which power is defined and shared both politically and constitutionally. From there will flow, in my view, a different idea of being at home.

When we wrote the report, we thought we should set a goal for constitutional transformation, and so we chose the year 2040 — 200 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. And if by 2040 we have a different political discourse, a different constitutional system, then this country will become over time I believe the kind of place that the Treaty envisaged.

And all of the work that you do, whether you are in research, or helping build people homes, or looking after homeless people — that work will bear fruit in the realisation that not only will everyone be housed, they will be homed in this place.

And just as the play Te Raukura says “the people returned home and saw again the mountain of their dreams and stood upon the earth they loved so well”, then perhaps our mokopuna may be able to do the same. For young Māori, a pepeha about our mountains or rivers and our iwi will become a living embodiment of what it means to be at home; and for those who have come here or are descended from those who came here because of the Treaty, they too will find their own way of being at home.

There is a Māori poet called Jean Riki who you may have heard of, and she wrote a poem as part of a short story about home. I’d like to close with that poem — it’s quite short:

Home is where the heart is
home is where the heart
home is where the
home is where?
Home is

Home is where we know it — home is where we find it. I hope your reflections help you find everyone a home in this place. Thank you — kia ora.


This chapter by Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, and Rongomaiwahine), called “Mountains, Dreams, Earth and Love”, is from a new book, Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua: Māori Housing Realities and Inspirations, edited by Fiona Cram, Jessica Hutchings and Jo Smith, and published by Bridget Williams Books.

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