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Rebuilding the marae community

A papakainga social housing development is being built at Gladstone’s Hurunui-o-rangi marae. PHOTO/THOMAS CROSKERY


Social housing and marae redevelopment are going ahead hand-in-hand in rural Wairarapa.

Ra Smith

Helped by a Te Puni Kokiri grant, Ngati Kahungunu community leader Ra Smith is spearheading the revitalisation of Gladstone’s Hurunui-o-rangi marae.

Coupled with an attached papakainga social housing development, the project will recreate what was once a vibrant pa community before the original marae burned down in 1955.

The plot of land was donated by whanau, including Mr Smith’s great-grandfather, and Mr Smith acknowledges the significant contribution.

“Four generations get to see, at the moment, a plan that we are hoping to fulfil in terms of building a marae.”

Having the six-house papakainga development is a way of warming a marae, Mr Smith said. And vice-versa, having the marae in tandem with the houses is culturally important.

The community wants a place to share in culture, the things they have held on to since the area was first inhabited, Mr Smith says.

Hurunui-o-rangi translates to ‘the great feather of the sky,’ and the area’s rich history goes back to the waka Takitimu, which brought 51 tohunga, (skilled people, chosen experts, priests, healers) to the area.

“They were dropping off tohunga all around the country to take up responsibility of teaching others the ways of the atua (ancestors),” Mr Smith said.

Looking beyond the serene Wairarapa countryside, Mr Smith believes there is room for further expansion of papakainga social housing.

Whanau around Gladstone would like to see more houses as part of Hurunui-o-rangi’s cultural and physical revitalisation, and while Mr Smith acknowledges the infrastructure could handle more, he is focused on the initial six.

“If we needed to expand, that’s obviously a possibility in terms of introducing more sewage treatment and looking for a little more water, maybe from a different aquifer,” he said.

“Those are all opportunities to build as well.”

He is interested to see where Labour takes the papakainga social housing initiative now it holds all seven Maori seats.

“It would be debatable whether they’re looking at social housing through papakainga or Maori initiatives.”

He commends the Green Party’s social housing stance, but is not so confident about New Zealand First.

“They might be saying that it’s for all New Zealanders.

“Normally these people are quite good at speaking about it in opposition, and not so good at doing it while they’re in government.

Marama Fox

Papakainga and marae redevelopment are a family affair for Mr Smith. His sister is former Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

Papakainga built on ancestral or multiple-title land does not attract the same land costs as other forms of housing, but the often remote developments face trouble getting mortgages.

Despite this, Ms Fox agrees marae-centred housing adds a sense of community.

“You’re building communities that are different to a housing estate or a subdivision because you’re building communities of like-minded people, who can have shared infrastructure, shared outdoor spaces.”

The papakainga model is better for Maori, she said, because it focuses on affordability, rather than simply building houses.

“Obviously if they’re built on papakainga, it’s about people who want to live close to their ancestral lands and with their marae.”

Mr Smith has also been involved with the Maori Party, standing in the Wairarapa seat in 2014, but for now he is focused on attracting occupants for the houses by Hurunui-o-rangi Marae.

“People who aren’t shy of the reo, who aren’t shy of the tikanga, who are thinking about things a bit more holistically, a bit more collectively.

“We take the name ‘tangata whenua’ pretty seriously,” he said.

“We think our stories, our history; our view of this area enriches it.”

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