Auckland marae denies claims it is failing to meet the needs of Māori

The Commissioner of Crown Lands report found the marae had breached its lease by not prioritising tangi or meeting the needs of the community. Photo / Awataha Marae / Supplied

An Auckland marae has denied claims that it is failing to meet the needs of local Māori.

In a report released on April 26, the Commissioner of Crown Lands said Awataha Marae, on Auckland’s North Shore, had breached its lease.

Awataha Marae was set up in 1988 to serve urban Māori in Auckland. Run by the Wilson whānau under an incorporated society, the marae has leased Crown land on Akoranga Drive in Northcote for peppercorn rent on the condition it provides a space for Māori to hold cultural events, particularly tangihanga, and promote an understanding of tikanga Māori as well as advance the social welfare of Māori.

However, locals have for a long time accused the marae of failing to meet the needs of the community.

Despite this, the lease for the marae was renewed in 2020.

The report by commissioner Craig Harris said the marae held infrequent tangihanga and had sometimes declined to host them due to the marae being used for other functions.

“Members of the local Māori community advised me that tangihanga were being held in private homes and garages due to their inability to access the marae at various times over the last few years.

“This has clearly led to sorrow and anger within the community.”

While decisions about tangi fell to those managing the marae, the lease states tangi must be provided as a priority.

“The occasional holding or hosting of tangihanga does not in my view meet the requirement to provide for traditional marae activities under the lease, more specifically the clear requirement that tangi must take precedence over other activities.”

Chief executive of the Awataha Marae Incorporated Society Anthony Wilson told Stuff it had only turned down hosting tangi when other events were planned and could not be moved elsewhere.

On these occasions, the marae offered to loan out its mattresses and help with kai to support whānau to hold tangi at home.

Awataha Marae chief executive Anthony Wilson pictured in 2016. File photo / Whakaata Māori

Wilson denied claims that the marae had prioritised commercial activities over hosting tangi. The marae had recently held two tangi and was preparing for another, he said.

However, the marae survived on funds from events and programmes hosted at the marae.

“How do we then balance those two priorities - keeping the place open and running, while at the same time meeting our endeavours to be there for our community?”

Wilson said that as the first point of call for people wanting to hold tangi at the marae, he did not know who had told the commissioner that they had been turned away.

The report also found Awataha failed to provide opportunities for people to engage with the marae.

“There is also strong concern about the stories of the community on the North Shore being lost because there is no place for the community to come together to share these stories,” Harris said.

“There were also claims that some children in the community have never set foot on the marae; schools wish to visit but have not been able to.”

Wilson said the marae held a range of activities at the marae, including programmes to help people find employment, to support people to get their driver’s licence, school for rangatahi who struggle in the traditional school system and tikanga-based drug and rehab addiction services.

It also hosted thousands of tauira (students) from schools around the North Shore, fed about 400 people every Sunday, grew produce for the community, held Te Pai Oranga panels (tikanga-based restorative justice with police for low-level crimes) and hosted creativity workshops, including whakairo (Māori carving) and Māori music.

“To try and infer that we would put commercial activities over the needs of our community is simply not true,” Wilson said.

“We serve thousands of people every year with food and other programmes that we’ve run here. How is this closed off? This does not make sense.”

The marae planned to respond to the report in detail.

“We believe that the report is not reflective of the truth,” Wilson said.

Asked what his message would be to community members feeling unwelcome at the marae, Wilson said: “If you want to participate in the services and you want to use those services, by all means, the door is open.

“And when you get here, we’ll give you a tea towel, because there’s work to be done in the back.”