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Māori counter-migration and housing, 1981–2013: Auckland and Northland

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In Cram, F., Hutchings, J., & Smith, J. (Eds.), Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua: Māori housing realities and aspirations. Bridget Williams Books., , 41-61

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Williams explores the phenomenon of counter-migration among Māori populations from Auckland back to their ancestral lands, kāinga tūturu, during the 1980s and 1990s.

This trend, he notes, emerged in response to escalating housing costs and unemployment in Auckland, alongside legislative efforts aimed at facilitating house construction on multiply-owned Māori land. Williams sets the stage by discussing the earlier urban migration, challenging the dominant narratives that often depict Māori urbanisation as a component of government assimilation policies. He highlights how these movements were strategically planned by community elders to meet communal needs, thus presenting a counter-narrative to the state’s assimilatory intentions. Referencing Melissa Matutina Williams, Nathan Williams characterises the period from 1945 to 1975 as a ‘golden age’ for Māori urban migration, during which cities were viewed as venues for short-term survival and long-term material and cultural prosperity. He details how rural-urban connections were maintained through various means, allowing for a form of ‘tribal evolution’ that facilitated the integration of urban Māori into city life while ensuring the continuity of their cultural and community ties. However, the economic reforms initiated by the fourth Labour government in 1984, which anticipated increased competition in the housing lending market, inadvertently exacerbated housing affordability issues for Māori. These challenges were further aggravated by systemic racism, limiting Māori access to housing and contributing to the acceleration of counter-migration. Williams points out that between 1981 and 1986, nearly 4,000 Māori moved from Auckland to Northland, where they faced significant housing shortages. Williams delves into the concept of papakāinga housing as a potential solution to the housing crisis faced by returning Māori. He contrasts the dilemma faced by urban Māori—choosing between overcrowded, expensive housing in Auckland or similarly overcrowded conditions in Northland—and suggests that papakāinga housing offers a way to reconcile these challenges by providing culturally and community-oriented living spaces. This chapter not only sheds light on the socio-economic drivers of Māori counter-migration but also emphasises the resilience and adaptability of Māori communities in navigating the complex landscapes of urban and rural living. Through his examination of legislative initiatives, urban planning, and the lived experiences of Māori, Nathan Williams contributes valuable insights into the ongoing discourse on indigenous urbanisation, housing, and cultural sustainability.

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