Wardens History project underway

Springbok tour protests, the occupation of Bastion Point and the Queen’s visits to Waitangi. Throughout the decades, Māori Wardens have been first-hand witnesses to major events in the history of Aotearoa. However now it is the turn of Ngā Watene Māori to have their own history recorded.

Published: Friday, 23 July 2021 | Rāmere, 23 Hōngongoi, 2021

Capturing the history of the Māori Wardens is one of the major priorities of the Modernisation work programme. As part of moving forward into the future, it is important to acknowledge where Māori Wardens have come from, and their multi-faceted contribution to the nation and our communities.

Cataloguing historical information

Work began last year when Lulu Fordham, a former librarian for Te Puni Kōkiri, spent four months cataloguing historical

Lulu visited Peggy Hughes at her home in Auckland.

information relating to the Māori Wardens. She travelled to eight Māori Warden districts and over this time catalogued 3436 photographs and 265 hard copy materials, which were in the private possession of long-standing members.

Among the members she visited with was Peggy Hughes, who has served as a North Shore Māori Warden for almost 50 years, and Peter Walden, longest-serving President of the Māori Wardens Association. Lulu says she enjoyed the process of meeting with the Wardens and finding out about the stories behind their cherished taonga.

“We just talked for hours and hours and I saw the passion they still have for their mahi and looking after our people, even though they’ve been doing this for such a long time. I met some lovely people, and I said to Te Rau [Clarke, Project Manager of Te Puni Kōkiri Māori Wardens Project] I will really miss the friends I have made.”

“Most of the time, I didn't get any of the cataloguing work done on site, so I had to take the materials away and then come back to return them. At one stage my living room was full of boxes of Māori Wardens photo albums, while I scanned thumb-nail copies of the images. The photos are a really precious part of the collection. You see Maori Wardens interacting with each other at their hui – these beautiful early black and white photos of people who have gone now.”

Common themes

Lulu says common themes kept coming up from her kōrero with the people she visited.

“Everyone always mentioned the uniform. They really felt their sense of pride when talking about wearing their uniform out in the community, and how it provided a major part of their identity. They also all voiced their desire to ensure the history would profile members who had played critical roles in their region’s development. It was strongly felt that each region was different and would have their own distinctive story to add to the full history.”  

Contribution to community

The depth and breadth of contribution Māori Wardens made to their communities was something Lulu says she hadn’t really been aware of before. She believes the history project will help enlighten more people and show they do much more than just traffic management.

“They do a lot of justice-based mahi. Supporting people coming in for their Court cases and de-escalating situations before the police become involved, like dealing with drunken behaviour and stopping fights down at the shops.”

“When you think about the age of many of our older Wardens, and how this kind of mahi could put them in danger, it makes you appreciate them even more. They say they want to do it, because it’s our own people who they are trying to look after. They want to stop things before situations get too serious, regardless of their own personal safety.”

“Aroha ki te tangata is definitely why they do it, and why they have done it for so long voluntarily. It’s kind of a thank less job to be in, but I am hopeful that once the history comes out, people will realise the Wardens are amazing! Especially the older ones I talked to. They aren’t spring chickens anymore, but they still put the uniform on, and some are even on call 24 hours. I think to myself, “Wow! You work harder than anyone else I know!"

Seeking more historical korero and content

Te Rau Clarke, Project Manager of the Te Puni Kōkiri Māori Wardens Project, says they are still actively seeking contributions to help tell the story of the Māori Wardens.

“It’s really important to have people coming forward who have memorabilia, kōrero and photos, from their whānau, from Māori Wardens in their rohe, to grow the depth of what we have collected already.”

“We have a clearer idea now of what’s out there in people’s private collections in regards to the range of historical information available. If the original items are required when creating a documentary, book or other kind of history resource, we will be able to contact the owners for their consent to use them.”

Te Rau says they are working with Te Māngai Pāho about potentially commissioning a documentary on the history of the Māori Wardens, and have already begun working with a media company, Mahi Tahi Productions, to create short digital profiles about long-serving Wardens.

If you would like to contribute to the History Project, please contact your Regional  Māori Wardens Project Co-ordinator.