On Jade’s background: “I’m from Ngāpuhi, that’s my tribe, but I’m from Ngati Hau and Te Parawhau primarily, which are hapū from around central Whangārei area. And then I’m also from Te Whakatōhea over in Opotiki, and so that’s Ngāti Tamahaua, and I’m from the Ngāti Whakaue hapū of Te Arawa in Rotorua and Maketū.”…And her dad’s from Holland.
Jade grew up in Australia, in Bundjalung Country (the Bundjalung people are Aboriginal Australians who are the original custodians of northern coastal areas of New South Wales in Australia). Her parents were founders of an eco community in Bundjalung Country, seeding and shaping her views on sustainability and social justice. Her childhood gave her a sense of what a good community really means. “Growing up in that community I saw how different we lived to the way people live in conventional towns or suburbs. I knew everybody in the community. It was really good being a kid because all the other children would support each other, and even just things like knowing where all the good fruit trees are, knowing the land really well, and knowing the people really well.”
The contrast between her upbringing in an eco village and life in New Zealand really struck her when she would visit New Zealand. Her whānau (family) didn’t live close together; they were living in “normal houses” dotted around town. “Yet our marae (meeting place) is over here, our land is there, nobody is living on it and it just didn’t make sense because we had that culture of being really close to one another and supporting one another.” These are problems Jade has been actively trying to solve through her studies, volunteering and work.
These days Jade is based in Whangārei, a town north of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).
She studied architecture at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, from 2006 to 2009. It’s hard to believe, but she says she just got through. She faced many barriers at university, taking issue with the pedagogy; “The content wasn’t culturally relevant,” she explains. Aboriginal culture didn’t make its way into the undergraduate programme, despite having an Aboriginal Environments research centre in the same building where architecture was taught. “We weren't learning to design in a way that was culturally responsive and engaged with community. Which was a real weakness of the program.”
She also has criticisms of architecture generally. In her time, there was still a large obsession with the “lone Starchitect” — object making, pointless prestige, and a lot of architectural language and jargon that didn’t mean anything. “Because I wasn’t familiar with that language, I felt inadequate and that the space wasn’t for me. I couldn’t connect it with what I thought architecture was for.”
“It was only when I met architects that thought in the way I did and were producing the kind of projects that I thought were relevant and through a process that I thought was relevant, that I went ‘Oh, actually, now I absolutely belong here,’” Jade reveals. She admits she’s not sure what the culture of architectural pedagogy is like now, but she hopes it’s changed.
Reflecting on the challenges of encouraging young people to study architecture, and to keep working in the industry, Jade says there are a few barriers; a lack of relevant education, few kaupapa indigenous firms, a tendency to hire Māori for the outward appearance it gives the firm, and then simply fewer opportunities to work on culturally relevant projects.
“Firms that are getting the good commercial Māori work, they need to be bringing more Māori architects, especially young ones,” she emphasizes. “They have that responsibility, I think it’s absolutely reprehensible to put all this energy into developing your competitive advantage, even if the relationships are genuine, without ensuring Māori architects are in these spaces.”
While on a visit to New Zealand after finishing her undergraduate studies, Jade’s Auntie suggested that she reach out to Rau Hoskins, a well known Māori Architect. He recommended that she come back to Aotearoa to make a difference.
She returned to New Zealand and completed a Masters in Architecture at Unitec, and joined Ngā Aho, The Māori Design Professionals network. Jade’s masters thesis was on papakāinga housing. Papakāinga is communal village living environment, usually set on ancestral land. Her aim was to bring this way of living back in a contemporary sense, and rebuild the social structures and connectivity to other people and the whenua (land).
“More than once I thought about quitting architecture,” she admits. “It was meeting people [at Ngā Aho] who had the same values, mindset and approach to architecture that made me feel like I have a place in this profession.” Jade struggled to understand how her profession is relevant and to connect the dots. In her head, it seemed really obvious - to get these really positive social outcomes for communities by shaping the built environment, but communities need to do that to have a positive impact. She felt a real disconnect in the way her profession was set up.
During her time at Unitec, she also worked with Rau Hoskins to build the kaupapa (initiative) Te Matapihi. Te Matapihi is an independent voice for housing Māori, and it advocates for Māori housing interests at a national level. A voluntary board at first, Jade worked with Te Matapihi casually to help it develop. When she finished her masters, she began working full time at Design Tribe, Rau’s architecture firm, However, when the initiative was awarded seed funding to become an NGO with permanent staff and resourcing half a year in, she made the tough decision to leave Design Tribe and fully commit to Te Matapihi. They now have six staff members, and they engage in regular meetings with the Minister of Housing and Urban Development. Their work has enabled them to become effective housing advocates for better Māori outcomes. “I’m really proud that we got to this point in such a short space of time, and I know how to build an organisation now!” She’s certainly managed to “connect the dots” very quickly, and successfully.
Jade’s Podcast: “Indigenous Urbanism”
As part of her work at Te Matapihi, Jade also started the Indigenous Urbanism podcast. She describes it as: A place based storytelling podcast focused on the way on indigenous communities are shaping their physical environments. “We focus on community drivers, with a secondary focus on practitioners,” says Jade. “We also talk to residents and whānau living and using these spaces.” Each episode focuses on either a specific project, or has a regional focus.
Through the podcast, the team has been to Te Tai Tokerau, interviewing those in papakāinga in Mangakahia, listening to their aspirations for their valley. “They’re building 10 houses now, but they’ve got future plans. They were quite important, because they were the first project to go through after Whangārei District Council’s papakāinga plan change.”
They’ve also visited a whanau in Kaihū in the Kaipara, which Jade describes as challenging because it was about home repairs for a home that were uninhabitable – it was held up on car jacks and the woman living there was on her own because everyone else had moved away. “It’s actually really important for someone to be there on the whenua, because those marae out there will die and there will be nowhere to come back to if someone doesn’t stay. But we need to remember that our home people are [sometimes] living in poverty and really terrible conditions - that one was a bit sobering, but I needed to balance some of the exciting urban development with the reality for the way people are living in their home territories.”
The podcast covers a range of topics and issues faced by indigenous peoples throughout New Zealand, from communities redefining what papakāinga means for them, to re-interpreting the nationally significant historic events of the New Zealand Land Wars in creative way, touring papakāinga developments, and an interview with Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga about their emergency housing project. Interviews will also take place in Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island, looking specifically at how Ngāi Tahu cultural values have been implemented into the post-earthquake city through the work of Matapopore Trust. Additionally, they will be speaking with Regenerate Christchurch about the re-establishment of mahinga kai and biodiversity in the Red Zone.
The first season of the podcast launched on July 6, with seven episode now available. While it’s still in it’s early days, it is already providing immense insight into many of the realities faced by Jade, her production team and the communities they visit. For Jade, it’s an opportunity to connect the dots between her profession and having a meaningful impact on architecture and changing perceptions. She is helping bring the context of her own living into the more traditional architectural teachings, and making space for more Māori designers and professionals.