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Māori wards in Tauranga Moana and Aotearoa: Liminal local government democracy

This thesis focuses on Māori representation within the highly contested arena of local government democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand. Limitations of the current Eurocentric model of local government democracy are considered at various spatial scales. Legislative changes to enable councils to establish Māori wards were launched in the early 2000s. Māori wards are defined locations where those on the Māori electoral roll vote for Māori ward candidates, resulting in dedicated Māori representation at elected member level. Until 2021 when the legislation was amended to remove the ability for public referenda to challenge council decisions on establishing Māori wards, however, little change occurred. Since then, 35 councils have established Māori wards for the 2022 local body elections. The research asks how, and in what ways, do Māori wards decolonise local government and encourage greater Māori representation? To explore this question, the empirical chapters are framed around three key aspects of liminality; the in-between positioning of Māori wards reflecting a time of change; this liminal space being a time where unease and discomfort is experienced by some as Indigenous disparity is addressed; and the threshold positioning of Māori wards as a place of opportunity and creativity, where new ideas and practices may be considered. Geographical concepts of (un)belonging, exclusion and deep colonising reveal challenges for Māori participation at the level of local government decision-making. The research uses an Indigenous methodological framework, Te Ara Tika, based on a framework of Kaupapa Māori, and developed specifically for non-Māori researchers. Māori wards have been widely debated in the media, particularly at the time of changes to the Māori ward legislation in 2021. Thematic analysis of 122 media representations of the Māori ward debate constitutes part of the empirical evidence. Fourteen individual interviews with local government representatives, including elected Council members from Tauranga Moana and members of Te Rangapū Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana Partnership, were conducted. Additionally, participant observations took place at three public meetings on Māori wards. The way the current form of local government representative democracy impacts Māori representation is identified. The research demonstrates how local government continues to act as a tool of colonialism by privileging Western worldviews, institutions, and systems. The research finds that Māori wards are liminal democratic options that are both decolonising and deep colonising. Evidence shows that the liminal space of Māori wards is an opportunity to consider options for a way forward to reimagine local government as a place of belonging underpinned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Te Ao Māori principles. The research builds on decolonisation literatures that seek to unsettle the hegemony of Eurocentric institutions and systems within colonised countries such as Aotearoa. Providing a critical spatial perspective on the intersection of democracy, colonisation and Indigeneity, this thesis advances decolonising geographical knowledges. In particular, this research advances debates about democratic processes, exposing ways in which colonially-based local authority democratic mechanisms contribute to under-representation issues. A reimagined local government allows current hegemonic approaches to be rethought and provides insights for a shift towards genuine decolonising processes.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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