Runanga recruiting Maori wardens

The need for more support for Maori families in Dunedin has prompted the Otakou Runanga to establish a branch of Maori wardens in the city. Brenda Harwood reports.

The Maori warden service in Dunedin is to be reinvigorated, with the establishment of a branch under the umbrella of the Ngai Tahu Otakou Runanga authority.

Otakou Runanga chairwoman Donna Matahaere-Atariki said the aim of the new Otakou branch of Maori wardens would be to provide support for whanau and rangatahi (youth) across Dunedin. About 7200 to 8400 people (6% to 7% of Dunedin's population) are Maori.

''The idea is to have a particular focus on where our young people are hanging out,'' Ms Matahaere-Atariki said.

The idea for the Otakou branch of voluntary Maori wardens came about through Ms Matahaere-Atariki's work with the South Dunedin Social Sector Trial, which made it clear whanau needed more support. While Maori wardens came under the umbrella of Te Puni Kokiri, the day-to-day operation of the local branch would come under the runanga, with support from police.

''I wanted to put some life into Maori wardens and since they are giving their time and need to be looked after, it seemed as though the runanga would be the best group to do that,'' she said.

To have sufficient volunteers to be able to ''spread the load'', Ms Matahaere-Atariki was hoping to recruit about 15 people.

It was important Maori wardens came from within the local community, so they had strong connections with whanau, she said.

''Input from whanau on the pressure points they face will be very important in establishing where Maori wardens may be able to help relieve that pressure.

''I'm very interested in keeping our kids out of the justice [system] and helping our whanau to step up and know that they will be supported.''

In establishing the branch, the Otakou Runanga had worked closely with police iwi and Pacific liaison officer for Dunedin-Clutha Senior Constable Toni Wall.

Snr Const Wall said there had been a Maori warden branch in Dunedin for many years, but due to a lack of numbers and work commitments this had been less active recently.

''I believe there is a need for more Maori wardens in Dunedin, especially with ongoing issues around drugs, alcohol and behaviour,'' Snr Const Wall said.

Police were involved with Maori wardens through providing branches with a van and ongoing training and support, she said.

''The focus will be on young people, so it will be good to have another group of people out in the community that young people can relate to.''

Becoming a Maori warden could be a good opportunity for personal development, especially with free training provided in security, first aid and fire safety, she said.

A hui for people interested in becoming Maori wardens will be held as part of an overall family day at Otakou Marae on July 26.

The event will also officially launch ''Te Putahitanga o Te Waipounamu - South Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency''.

Te Putahitanga is one of three non-government organisations established to oversee Whanau Ora funding. Other organisations focus on the North Island and on Pacific people.

Te Putahitanga will commission private-sector agencies to deliver services to whanau on behalf of the Government.

Interim chief executive Diane Turner told The Star the launch event on July 26 would be a great opportunity for people to hear about the future focus of Whanau Ora in the South Island.

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