Letter From…Aotearoa (New Zealand): The restoration of identity
Letter From…Aotearoa (New Zealand): The restoration of identity
TEXT BY THEO NAZARY AND DELANEY WINDIGO
“Kia ora!” said Chelita Zainey as she greeted us in the traditional Maori welcoming at the Christchurch International Airport in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Kia ora can be translated as “be well,” and it’s common to hear people from diverse backgrounds using the acknowledgement across the country. Chelita was one of the organizers for the 2018, and second, Biennial Indigenous International Design Forum (Nā Te Kore). This gathering brought together designers, planners, government officials, academics, and architects from around the world to share, present, and discuss important projects and ideas about Indigenous placemaking, design, and architecture. We travelled more than 14,000 kilometres from Toronto to attend this remarkable event.
While we had heard from numerous colleagues and friends about the immense beauty of Aotearoa, nothing compared to being there and seeing it firsthand. Christchurch suffered a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in February 2011, and a significant portion of the city centre was completely destroyed. However, through the rebuilding process, the city was given an opportunity to reconnect with its Maori roots and culture. It was through this process that the City initiated a largescale Maori urban planning and design strategy to bring back the Maori influence on the region. Maori-influenced architecture, design, and planning entwined to produce astonishing new government buildings, public spaces, parks, and commemorative pieces. Christchurch arose from the disaster as a more culturally grounded and connected city.
The conference was held at the Tuahiwi Marae, which is approximately 20 minutes north of Christchurch and is home to the Ngāi Tūāhuriri, the descendants of Tuahuriri peoples. A Marae is a communal and sacred place in Polynesian societies. In fact, for the Maori peoples, Maraes are central to everyday life, and the Tuahiwi Marae was surrounded by homes, a school, church, and urupa (cemetery). The Marae was picturesque and held both sacred and modern beauty. It served as a community space, with its own farmland and garden, community kitchen, large multipurpose gathering space, conference rooms, storage space, washrooms with showers, and more.
Each morning, we woke up at sunrise for a meditation session, sunrise prayer, and communal breakfast. Then, we turned our attention to conference presentations, collaborations, and discussions around Indigenous design, architecture, and planning. In the afternoons and evenings, we toured Christchurch and visited important sites that were impacted by the earthquake and rebuilt with Maori influence and involvement in the entire process— Indigenous involvement that Canadian planners, architects, and landscape architects should also aspire towards.
The conference ignited many excellent conversations, and presenters captivated audiences with their projects, ideas, and contributions. For example, we learned about the ETXEKOANDRE, the house of the ETXE, and the influence this had on sacred spaces in the Basque region of Spain. We learned about the Mayan creation myth of the Kakaw, “the immortal chocolate Tree,” and how oral traditions are influencing design in forest farming communities in El Salvador. We learned about the decolonized approaches used in Mexico to work with Indigenous artisanal communities and the ways in which a region called “Los Altos de Chiapas” in the south is using participatory design to revolutionize outdated design practices. We learned about the ways the Maoris are using their traditional stories of exploration and adaptation with modern design practices. Maoris are co-designing and rebuilding Aotearoa with Indigenous planning and placemaking at the centre of everything and not just as an afterthought because of “reconciliation.”
While attendees and presenters came from far and wide to the Nā Te Kore conference, the themes were extraordinarily similar. Indigenous peoples from across the world have a message for design and architecture communities: Indigenous peoples will be making significant contributions to Indigenize and reclaim their spaces. As the original peoples of the lands that they inhabit, they are much better equipped to sustainably develop and imagine changes to the land. Many Indigenous peoples consider themselves stewards of the land and are emotionally and spiritually connected to the land.
Turtle Island, commonly referred to as North America, is experiencing a similar reclamation movement called Indigenous placemaking. We were at the conference to share one of these examples, called the Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) Legacy project. The IRSS Legacy project can be divided into two components. First, there is the “Restoration of Identity” sculpture, which is the Turtle sculpture being developed by Anishinaabe artist Solomon King under the direction of Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. Secondly, there is the “Teaching, Learning, Sharing and Healing” (TLSH) space, which will be constructed on the southwestern corner of Nathan Phillips Square in partnership with the City of Toronto. The Restoration of Identity sculpture will be the centrepiece of the TLSH space, and it will be accompanied by several other significant cultural elements such as the Storytelling Amphitheatre, Three-Sisters Mound, Indigenous Lodge, Inukshuk, Métis Voyageur, and the Kuswenta walkways to reflect the Two-Row Wampum. Each of these elements holds a deeply significant cultural meaning and teaching for Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. The TLSH space, which will be built directly south of the Japanese Peace Garden, is a living classroom on Indigenous culture, history, and traditions.
This trip to the Nā Te Kore conference in Aotearoa is now in our distant memories, and the IRSS Legacy project has advanced substantially. Our project team and partners have shifted our focus towards fundraising and working with a prime consultant to refine the TLSH conceptual design and ensure consistency with the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization design. We are in the process of raising approximately $6,000,000 for the construction costs of the TLSH space and working closely with the City of Toronto to develop a co-management agreement. In terms of our fundraising efforts, we are well ahead, having raised approximately $2,000,000, with a significant contribution coming from the Ontario government. We are working closely with faith group leaders to ensure they’re able to contribute to the project. We are also turning our attention towards the private sectors and financial institutions to make significant contributions as they continue to work towards restitution.
The IRSS Legacy project has had a profound impact on both of us personally and professionally, too. As we’ve learned and progressed in our own ideas, it’s become very clear that we all need to do more as a society and people. Reconciliation cannot be an addendum or checkmark for government, financial institutions, and non-profit organizations. Rather, we need to think about restitution as occupants and settlers on Indigenous land. Restitution is about making things right, and that’s what we need to do collectively across Turtle Island. We need to restore the rightful place of Indigenous culture, history, and traditions through placemaking and similar initiatives throughout Turtle Island.
To do this, we need everyone’s cooperation and partnership to achieve the kind of progress that’s being made in Aotearoa. With the IRSS Legacy project, we move one step closer towards reconciliation and restitution.