Major dispute between carver and trust over iconic Gisborne Tairāwhiti waka

An iconic Gisborne waka hourua is now at the centre of a bitter dispute over how it's being managed, and there are concerns about its upkeep. 

Waka hourua (double canoe) are at the centre of Polynesian migration and history and were used to sail around the Pacific and Aotearoa.  

The 21.9-metre double-hulled canoe, Tairāwhiti, was the dream of master carver and waka hourua builder Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp.  

"The ancestors gave me that dream and pretty much told me, 'That's what you've got to do, boy', so that's what I did," Nepia-Clamp said. 

He has spent decades building, sailing, and sharing mātauranga of waka hourua around the world.  

Returning home to Gisborne in 2011, he was determined to put it together and build it.

In 2016, leading the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust, the build began for the waka, costing more than $1 million.

By 2017 the double-hulled canoe was finally complete.  

"The life of a waka begins when it's launched and it's sitting in Tangaroa and they become one," he added.

The waka was soon up and running, used as a floating classroom for schools and the community.

Additionally, it was used as a Qualmark Gold-rated tourism operation.  

However, in 2020, Nepia-Clamp resigned as CEO of the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust.  

"I disagreed with the way that the trust was being operated, just with a very narrow focus on school education," he said.

"It was for all people of the Tairāwhiti who were interested in this kaupapa."  

Since he's left the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust, Nepia-Clamp claims the waka is not being sailed or maintained.  

"It breaks your heart to see a waka that we've really spent a lot of time and energy and wairua, just being neglected like this."  

He said he formed the Waka Voyaging Trust in the hopes of collaborating with his former trust, the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust.  

However, he believes all requests to meet or come up with solutions to sail and maintain the waka hourua have been ignored.  

"We've asked for two board meetings for two and a half years now to collaborate, to share our skills, knowledge and resources."  

Nepia-Clamp said the Waka Voyaging Trust has sought legal advice and claims a court battle could be on the cards.  

"Meet with us please, let's come up with a plan to get our waka hourua kaupapa back online," he said.

The Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust did not respond to requests for an interview with The Hui.  

However, in response to a legal claim made by the Waka Voyaging Trust, the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust said as a community-funded organisation, they are aware of the responsibility to use funds to benefit the community as directly as possible.  

The trustees added they are confident that they are acting within their legal and moral obligations to its major stakeholders.  

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and New Zealand On Air.