Tug of war over iconic Auckland marae

  • 11/06/2017

It's supposed to be a home away from home for the Māori of Auckland's North Shore. But 30 years after its establishment, the community of Awataha Marae say they've been left out in the cold.

"I used to come down and just stroll in, say hi to the whānau, those sorts of things," North Shore local Hohepa Mclean told TV3's The Hui. "I don't feel like I can anymore. I don't feel like I'm welcome to do that."

Awataha is now at the centre of a tug of war between the community and the people who run it, Awataha Marae Incorporated Society.

Among the issues is the marae's policy of not hosting tangihanga in the wharenui. Founder of Awataha, the late Dr Arnold Wilson, decreed that until the wharenui was carved, tangihanga shouldn't be held there.

Thirty years on the wharenui remains uncarved, and locals are left to host what's become known as garage tangi.

Frustrated whānau members have criticised marae management for prioritising business over the needs of the community.

In 2015 the North Shore Māori community formed Te Raki Paewhenua Committee, and now they're calling for transparency and more of a say over the marae.

Fed up with having the door shut on them, Te Raki Paewhenua Committee called for more community engagement from the marae. Last year, Awataha Marae Inc invited the community to apply and pay a fee to be members. Eighty-two people applied, only to be told this year that those applications have been declined as the marae entity is changing into a charitable trust.

Awataha Marae CEO Anthony Wilson declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a press release said more than 10,000 people access the Awataha and its programmes annually, and demands on the marae and the services it provides have been increasing and changing for some years.

The society decided in 2010 to conduct a review to ensure the structure of the marae and its services were suitable for the future.

"The review found that moving to a trust structure would be more inclusive and allow the marae to better provide for its community. Te Whānau O Awataha Trust was formed earlier this year to replace the incorporated society," Mr Wilson said.

According to the statement redevelopment plans are still at an early stage, but would aim to enhance the four areas the marae trust already works in: Māori culture, language arts, tourism, health and education.

Mr Wilson said for a start they need a purpose-built facility to expand existing health services, as well as education facilities, on-site accommodation, and to fully complete the wharenui so there is a dedicated space for cultural needs such as tangihanga and whare oranga.

However many in the community feel they have no other option but to take their cause to the street.

They plan to start protesting on Akoranga Dr this week, where the marae is located, and aren't ruling out further legal action.

"Do we want it to go further to the high court? No, not really, but unless the people down there are prepared to take us seriously, that is exactly where we will go if we are pushed into doing so" said Raewyn Harrison, Te Rakipaewhenua Committee member.

The Hui