Being Maori in the City: Indigenous Everyday Life in Auckland Gagné N. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. xvi + 345 pp., maps, bibliog., index, appendix, glossary, notes. ISBN 978-1442614130. CAD $32.95 (Pb.) ISBN 978-1442645929. CAD $70.00 (Hc.)
Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
© 2014 Australian Anthropological Society
The Australian Journal of Anthropology
Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 118–119, April 2014
How to Cite
Lambert-Pennington, K. (2014), Being Maori in the City: Indigenous Everyday Life in Auckland Gagné N. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. xvi + 345 pp., maps, bibliog., index, appendix, glossary, notes. ISBN 978-1442614130. CAD $32.95 (Pb.) ISBN 978-1442645929. CAD $70.00 (Hc.) . The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 25: 118–119. doi: 10.1111/taja.12078
- Issue published online: 12 APR 2014
- Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
While much of the recent scholarship on indigeneity in Oceania has focused on indigenous recognition and identity politics, Being Maori in the City turns an analytic eye toward the uneasy and rarely explored everyday worlds of urban-based Maori. This book traces ‘the paths followed to create Maori places in the city and to build spaces and comfort for Maori in the various sectors of the larger society' (p. 12). Throughout the book, Natacha Gagné adeptly weaves together ethnographic analysis, historical context, and social anthropology to craft a book whose structure and organisation uniquely mirrors the heteroglossia, complexity, and multi-layered experiences of the Maori about whom she writes.
Gagné, with a nod to Eric Schwimmer, puts the postcolonial condition of Maori coexistence and interrelation at the forefront of her project in Being Maori in the City. She draws on an understanding of identity as relational, contextual, and necessarily shifting to explore how Maori living outside of tribal areas create spaces and cultivate relationships that affirm their identity as Maori and mitigate the sometimes alienating affect of living in the Pākehā (Euro-New Zealanders) dominated urban sphere. In particular she identifies whānau (extended family) marae (traditional Maori meeting place), and ‘houses like marae’ as ‘places and spaces that are significant for Maori comfort, affirmation, and resistance’ (p. 19).
The strength of Being Māori in the City comes from the author's deep engagement with the literature on Maori culture and history, paying particular attention to the everyday patterns of cultural continuity and improvisation among urban-based Maori. Gagné uses the first two chapters to trace how changes in the national political landscape, Maori migration to cities, and the socio-economic dynamics in Auckland have contributed to what many urban-based Maori experience as ‘two worlds’. She shows how state policies, like the Treaty of Waitangi, the Waitangi Tribunal, and subsequent settlements, have promoted biculturalism and tribal identities and suggests these processes provide insight into how and why Maori often experience the city as a foreign, colonised place. For some, the sense of not fitting in or belonging there heightens their consciousness of being Maori and fuels their desire to learn Maori language and genealogy and/or actively (re)engage in whānau.
Importantly, the book substantively challenges scholarly work and political discourse that frames urban indigenous peoples in terms of assimilation and culture loss. Most of the chapters in Being Maori in the City are dedicated to Gagné's careful analysis of whānau and marae, both in terms of their continuity with rural traditions and the ways Maori have reconfigured these traditional organisational structures and places to incorporate certain realities of city life. She traces the emergence of urban marae, which, unlike most rural marae, are not necessarily kin-oriented or tribal-based meeting houses or built on Maori land, can be pan-tribal in orientation and institution-based. In Auckland, marae like Te Unga Waka, which is run by a Catholic Church, and Waipapa, a pan-tribal marae at the University of Auckland, exemplify the urban-based configurations of this important ceremonial and social space.
Being Maori in the City also reveals how some Maori have extended whānau principles associated with traditional marae into their homes to create ‘houses like marae.’ These houses not only serve as important meeting places for networks of family and friends to gather for meals, exchange news, and problem-solve, but also offer a safety net and transitional residence for new migrants to the city. Significantly, these houses illustrate the continuity and flexibility of whānau. For example, they help reproduce certain familial bonds, like the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild, which involves both day-to-day childrearing and teaching of Maori language, songs, and prayers. Gagné also shows how whānau in the urban context have expanded to include groups of Maori and others with common interests in performing arts groups, Maori language classes, and workplaces. She concludes that, whānau, regardless of the form and tensions that may exist within it, is a key to urban-based Maori survival and mobilisation, as well as a meaningful, if porous, boundary between Maori and non-Maori universes of meaning.
To enable her exploration of the relational dynamics of Maori identity, Gagné develops two concepts: universe of meanings and politics of differentiation. She explains that a universe of meanings ‘is useful for examining the principles that guide people in their actions and daily interaction in the way they engage with places and spaces, as well as in the ways in which they make sense of the world’ (p. 12). The politics of differentiation are made visible in moments in which Maori confront various universes of meaning and differing valuations of Maori culture and practice. Sometimes it is expressed in a rhetoric about authenticity (p. 68), which includes ‘real’ Maori who maintain connections to tribal lands and kin-based whānau and ‘urban Maori’ whose understanding of the ways Pākehā ‘work’ can alternately enable them to effectively code-switch and/or be accused of becoming ‘Pakehafied’ (pp. 68–72, 220–221).
While these ideas have the potential to make an important contribution to identity theory, their usage would be enriched by further elaboration of power and engagement with a broader range of identity literature. Gagné employs habitus to explain the flexibility of a universe of meanings (p. 231), however the Bourdieuian concepts of social and cultural capital and fields could facilitate a useful discussion of status and mana (spiritual power) in the urban context. Similarly, critical race theory, with its attention to geographies of whiteness and white privilege, could advance her analysis of the social-economic inequalities between Maori and others in the city, the ‘outsiderness’ that many Maori experience there, and everyday forms of power. Weighed against the book's rich, insightful analysis of everyday sites of Maori affirmation, these critiques are minor. Overall, Being Maori in the City makes a truly important contribution to the nascent work on urban indigenous experiences in Oceania. It will be of interest to those writing and teaching about contemporary indigeneity and is ripe for cross-cultural comparison with work on urban indigenous people in Australia, North America, and elsewhere.