By Rosemary Rangitauira 05/07/2021

Supporting Auckland communities to ‘re-indigenise’ their spaces, to enhance opportunities for better health outcomes for their hapori (communities), is Dr Kimiora Raerino’s mission.

Kimiora, of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Rangiwewehi, specialises in research on the physical environment, health and Māori wellbeing, and has lived in Auckland for about 30 years.

She works as a research officer in the Whāriki Research Centre at Massey University and is a co-chair of Te Kotahi a Tāmaki – Marae Collective.

Some of the research she’s involved in includes:

Te Āki is humbled to catch up with Kimiora in her new Auckland office adorned by moving boxes and files. She tells us about her mahi and what drives her.

“It is the little nuances that can change a community. Like a reo Māori sign. It’s those little things that remind us who we are and where we are,” she says.

Kimiora uses her knowledge to help advise organisations such as Waka Kotahi and Auckland City Council to re-develop spaces that reflect the community.

“I want to reawaken them to the thinking that when you’re designing communities you’ve actually got to think about re-indigenising them and bringing mana whenua to the forefront – because if you create a sense of identity and belonging for people you are creating a sense of ownership and pride in our communities. This is especially needed in our highly populated urban centres, where there seems to be a disconnect for tāngata whenua not only from the community but from their heritage.”

Her latest article on Te Ara Mua, an intervention (before and after) study of enhancing neighbourhood streets in Māngere, highlights how more welcoming spaces can enhance wellbeing.

“Intervention measures were put in place to try and sample the effectiveness of slowing down traffic, installing Māori artworks and plants that make these places more people-friendly, and enable a desire to use public transport or getting on bikes or walking.”

The 2021 article concluded that meaningful collaboration provides significant opportunities and – if ongoing – can contribute to healing historical trauma caused by colonisation. It also reports that community autonomy can have broader implications, including spatial justice and health equity.

The full study will be published in late 2022 after carrying out and analysing qualitative interviews with the community.

Kimiora is devoted to her local marae of Mataatua (Ngāti Awa ki Tāmaki Makaurau).

“It drives me to be on Te Kotahi a Tāmaki – Marae Collective, and enables me to call myself a community marae-based researcher.”

The voluntary collective is a support network that helps 36 marae across the wider Auckland region to come together, and share experiences and learnings.

“What we found is that marae came to the fore during the Covid lockdown. We had little communication with Government agencies. But our marae had volunteers to help so Covid made us go ‘zoom’ – not because marae need more help but because we’ve realised what we can achieve as a collective.”

One such initiative is called Paerangi, a website developed to help vulnerable whānau in Tāmaki to access Covid-related information.

Spending time with Kimiora, her community spirit shines as she jokes about her part-time employment at Massey University.

“I’m only half-in because I want to be a part of ensuring the community comes to the fore a bit more.

“It’s a driving force for me. Rather than research devised and planned using institutional measures that sometimes sit outside of Māori paradigms, marae-based researchers are ideally situated to ask questions of our marae and people in a way that means we are developing research ‘for Māori by Maori’ as we develop research ‘for marae by marae’.”

At the end of the day…

Dr Kimiora Raerino hopes her story can inspire others to follow their passion.

“I got into studying when I was in my mid-to-late 30s so this has been a real journey for me. A journey of connecting to my iwi and what it is to be Māori.

“If the work that I do can help other tāngata whenua to do this type of research – or to connect to their heritage – then that’s what matters to me,” she says.