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Tuesday, 21 May 2019 02:25 am

Ra Smith: Reviving the “people’s marae.”

Ra Smith is spearheading a marae-based papakāinga social housing development.

Social housing and marae redevelopment are underway in idyllic rural Wairarapa.

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

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

The plot of land was donated by whānau, including Smith’s great-grandfather, and Smith, (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa), 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 papakāinga development is a way of warming a marae, Smith explains. 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, Smith says.

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

“They were dropping off tohunga all around the country to take up responsibility of teaching others the ways of the atua,” Smith relates.

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

One of the six new houses.

‘Papakāinga’ translates as ‘the foundation of home’ or ‘the homes’ foundation.’ And the foundation is spreading. Te Puni Kōkiri’s Māori Housing Network supports similar projects nationally.

Spokesperson Tamati Olsen says marae development is about supporting marae to be thriving, self-determining entities. “Te Puni Kōkiri provides facilitation and brokerage support for marae to access resources available from private and public sector agencies and groups.”

Uptake has been good. Ngā Hau e Whā marae in Christchurch is opening a six-house papakāinga development. Whareponga Marae north of Gisborne hosts a four-house papakāinga development, enabled by $1.3 million from Te Puni Kōkiri. And Hawkes Bays’ Aorangi Māori Trust Board is launching an eight-home papakāinga south of Waipukurau.

So the concept seems to have taken root far and wide, and a fund called Oranga Marae is being developed by Te Puni Kōkiri and the Department of Internal Affairs to support the development aspirations of marae.

Te Puni Kōkiri says the program will contribute to the cultural and physical revitalisation of marae as centres of Māori identity and mātauranga.

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

“Those are all opportunities to build as well.”

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

“It would be debatable whether they’re looking at social housing through papakāinga or Māori 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.

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

Although the Māori Party’s result meant she left Parliament last year, she, like her brother, is getting involved in papakāinga initiatives, aiming to provide prefabricated, energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable housing on ancestral land.

Papakāinga built on ancestral or multiple-title land does not attract the same land costs as other forms of housing.

But Fox says the often remote developments face trouble getting mortgages.

Despite this, she 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 papakāinga model is better for Māori, she concludes, because it focuses on houses affordability, rather than simply building houses.

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

Former Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox. (PHOTO: Supplied).

She wants marae trusts, whānau and hapu to form shared equity business arrangements to unlock the untapped potential of New Zealand’s Māori land.

Will she take papakāinga back to the floor of Parliament in 2020? Fox says she has made no firm plans at this point.

“At this stage it’s a fluid whakaaro. While that’s attractive, I think securing homes for our people is more important than my political aspirations.”

She does reveal the Māori Party is bringing more young people into decision-making roles, to prepare them for political and economic leadership positions.

“They are the inheritors of our decision-making now.”

Smith has also been involved with the Māori Party, standing in the Wairarapa seat in 2014.

While he was asked, and was willing, to stand in 2017, things went a different way.

But he won’t rule out a future bid.

“I’m a member of that party. I’m really interested in what they’ll be doing.

“The political aspirations are there but I think the political aspirations and the other things that I do are associated with revealing the asset that Māori and specific Māori are to the community.

“I think we’ve been undervalued. Even worse I think, actually we’ve been devalued. I’ve got a vision of the value of Māori being fully re-appreciated, and then for us to be a part of the weave of a New Zealand society.”

For now, Smith is focussed 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 emphasises.

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

“In terms of social capital and cultural capital, some of the things that we value here increases that capital.

“What value do you have that your great-grandfather donated the land? That your ancestors, you can count back 10 generations?

He sums up the ideas with a rhetorical question. “What’s your social return on investment? What’s your cultural return on investment?”

The six homes at Hurunui-o-rangi are currently being completed.

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