Professor Regan Potangaroa [Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa] has been awarded the Te Rangaunua Hiranga Māori Award after devoting his career as an engineer and architect to humanitarian deployments, emergency response, and restoring marae.
Regan’s work included working with hapū to save marae, developing drone-based thermal seeking technologies to locate bodies buried in unmarked graves in urupā after the Spanish Influenza swept through Wairarapa Māori in 1920, and the response and recovery following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake where his research led to relocating pāua.
Regan has completed more than 200 humanitarian deployments in 22 countries since 1996, which has formed the core of his ethics and research as an academic.
Following the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year, Regan worked with Aohangga Incorporation – owners of Owāhanga Station, one of the largest land holdings in Wairarapa – to coordinate local relief efforts and provide support to ensure the safety and well-being of those affected by the storm.
“These efforts have made a significant impact on the community, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to supporting those in need,” a nomination supporter said.
Regan also served on the station’s committee of management from 1983 to 1991 and was re-elected in 2022.
During his first stint, he was pivotal in stabilising the structure of Pāpāuma Marae, Tipuna Whare, built in 1905, at a time when the committee would have preferred that it “collapsed and disappeared”.
“Pāpāuma Tipuna Whare is now 117 years old and work towards restoration of the Wharenui continues. Regan’s expertise will play a significant role in the restorations of Pāpāuma,” the supporter said.
Recently, Regan worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as part of a shelter team in Bangladesh with the Rohingya Emergency Response.
Regan brings his advocacy for sustainable and resilient built environments, developed from research in the humanitarian field, back to the marae. His community projects include ways to seismically strengthen and retain marae, avoiding large costs by using “whānau-isation”.
With about 70 per cent of Aotearoa’s 1300 marae expected to have buildings classified as earthquake-prone in the next 20 years, Regan’s “whānau-isation” approach – the pooling of resources to take a hands-on, community-driven approach – could allow cost-effective renovations.
He said there are about 40 Marae across the nation that will be issued demolition orders under the 2017 Earthquake-prone Buildings Amendment Act.
“I am working with three of them in the Wellington and Wairarapa region. The key to this work has been providing information to the users and marae committees involved so that they can make reasoned decisions about the way forward.”
Regan said hapū were previously being forced to demolish their marae, which makes the work he is doing even more significant.
Regan’s expertise includes leading large teams in rebuilding damaged communities’ post-disaster.
He is also a highly reputable Māori wellbeing researcher and provides Te Ao Māori expertise in intergenerational wellbeing resilience and disaster risk reduction.
Through Massey University’s School of Built Environment, he is currently working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, developing their capacity training for the incorporation of Housing Land and Property issues into existing shelter and settlement programs for the Asia-Pacific region.