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Massey researcher cultivates plans for Mäori gardens

Massey researcher cultivates plans for Mäori gardens

Cultivating indigenous knowledge along with good health by reviving traditional Māori communal māra kai (food gardens) is the longterm vision of a Massey University planning researcher.

Hayley Millar (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Tāne) is examining how planners can support Māori in re-establishing and sustaining Māori māra kai as part of New Zealand’s cultural heritage.

Developing indigenous gardens as a community resource will enable Māori to continue spiritual and cultural practices through growing traditional crops, she says.

Ms Millar, a Master of Resource and Environmental Planning student, has just been awarded a $10,000 Whānui Agricultural Scholarship by the Te Pūtea Whakatupu Trust and the Federation of Māori Authorities for her project.

She will be interviewing planners in areas with high Māori populations in the North Island, such as the Bay of Plenty. She will also talk to caretakers of indigenous gardens – such as Te Para Para in Hamilton – to find out what support and planning regulation changes are needed for developing Māori historic food gardens elsewhere.

A keen gardener herself, Ms Millar has set up successful community gardens at marae in the Rangitikei area, with māra kai, fruit trees and herb gardens.

“There are multiple benefits – cultural, social, health, environmental and economic – in re-establishing māra kai based on traditional knowledge and practices, and located on Māori historic sites,” she says.

“The gardens create a space where kaumātua can pass on their knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori (customs) to the younger generations.

“Māori gardening is significant to Māori development and is viewed as a pathway for Māori to reconnect with their customary traditions and contribute to cultural advancement,” she says. “It’s imbued with Māori cultural, spiritual and environmental values and customary practices.”

Māori traditionally grew and harvested crops such as kūmara, and hue (gourd) brought from East Polynesia when they first migrated around 1200 AD. Customs relating to cultivation of crops included the use of karakia during planting and harvesting. Some iwi required a kuia (female elder) to be in attendance when a kūmara crop was harvested.

In a paper she wrote with supervisor Associate Professor Caroline Miller, titled Māori Food Gardens:

Revived Heritage and Community Resource, presented at the recent Making Cities Liveable conference, Ms Millar looked at the role of marae and barriers to setting up gardens, and identified several planning issues.

While indigenous food gardens could be considered as heritage sites and symbols, she says there are also complexities in awarding them protective status. There is a risk such gardens could be disregarded because less tangible elements associated with them – such as manākitanga (hosting customs and protocol) – are not easily recognised under criteria for heritage status, she says.

Ms Millar, who has a Bachelor of Resource and Environmental Planning (Hons) from the School of People, Environment and Planning, is also researching and producing a documentary for the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing looking at how current māra (garden) projects can promote community cohesion, connection to place, and the retention and development of cultural traditions.

She hopes her research will help to identify and resolve existing planning barriers to setting up food gardens, and that councils and communities will embrace the concept because of the many benefits for Mäori communities.


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