Māori Wardens have supported whānau at a grassroots level since the late 1800s. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters calls them "a huge asset to New Zealand's social cohesion".
Published: Thursday, 30 January 2020 | Rāpare, 30 Kohitātea, 2020
Today the country's 900 wardens work with the homeless, people under the influence of alcohol, young people and the wider community. They facilitate hui, hīkoi and provide event and traffic management, but as we talk more, we understand that they do more than that.
Despite which community you go to across the motu, they are among the most well-respected community organisations which can be attributed to their motto Aroha ki te tangata.
When we met with the local Katikati and Tauranga Moana Māori Wardens, they had just completed ‘de-escalation training’ with emergency services, the Salvation Army and the Tauranga City Council.
Huhana (Susan) Tūkaki signed up 25 years ago in Katikati. ’Nan’ as she is affectionately known by to most of the Katikati community is the definition of selfless.
In 2015 Huhana her community nominated her as a finalist at the national New Zealand Pride Awards.
She described the nomination as a moving experience but feels there were others doing more and who are more deserving.
"I just love what I'm doing. I enjoy seeing the results, seeing the kids happy and seeing them safe. That's all the recognition I need."
Her only wish is to see Katikati return to the safe town she grew up in. "I want that for the kids - for them to feel safe like when I was their age."
Huhana says she's not just doing it for her home, she's doing it for every Māori Warden across the motu.
The stalwart has been around a long-time. She knows the value of the Wardens and their connection to their communities, conflict resolution being one of the key attributes they bring.
"It's how to speak to people, your posture, how you act with them in response to abusive behaviour,” she says. "It's all about how you present yourself to the person. That's all it is really, so there's nothing physical that goes on."
Huhana has worked thousands of hours and constantly confronts issues - such as unemployment, suicide and homelessness – to make community members feel safe.
Marie Gardiner, the secretary of the Tauranga Moana Wardens, considers herself new despite having served three years with the organisation.
"I used to provide transport for the wardens and then hello I am dragged in," she giggles.
Marie estimates she puts in anywhere between 34 and 60 voluntary hours a week each into running the branches they oversee. She says the hardest part of the role can be dealing with bad behaviour.
"We cop it verbally quite often. It just needs to be one in a group to make trouble, the rest might be great. But most of the public know we are Wardens.
"They see our uniform, and they calm down. That's what I've found so far. Especially at the bus stop in town that we look after, to make children feel safe around strangers."
She says the best way the public can help the Wardens is "to give them a smile".
"Just let us know you're okay."