Te Wānanga o Aotearoa celebrate 30 years

By Hone-Haunui Rapana

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa held their 30th Anniversary in Te Awamutu, with a student a part of the first intake, to a current student who still sees the values it was built on.

Celebrating three decades of a Māori led institution that is built on Māori values.

Marie Panapa says, “A prodigy university.”

Jim Mather says, “A leader of indigenous schools in the world.”

Pine Wipaki-Hawkins says, “A holder of the traditions of our ancestors.”

Established under the guidance of Rongo Wetere and Boy Mangu, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa wanted to revitalise cultural learning and find a place for students who struggled in schools.

Marie Panapa says, “This school started on the idea of looking after students who were kicked out of schools in Te Awamutu in 1983.”

Thomas Morgan says, “He had a dream and it still happened. He had a couple of nightmares in between, but it was amazing how many people was against this place.”

Thomas Morgan from Te Awamutu was a part of the first intake. He returned as a guest speaker and shared his experience of the early days.

“Back in 83 they had a carving school. It use to be across the road at the Waikato dairy company, hence this building here Apakura,” says Morgan.

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. In 2005 the head of the wānanga at the time, Rongo Wetere, was subject to an unfavourable auditor general's report but was later cleared.

“Well Rongo got accused of exploitation and the Crown, they wanted him out. They closed down lots of our sites,” says Morgan.

In the 30 years, resources, buildings, and people have changed, but one thing remains the same according to current student Pine Wipaki-Hawkins.

“It's the values, and the Māori environment that truly matters to me.”