Rotorua Māori Wardens Community Trust share why they do the job

Everyone's got an uncle and aunty in the Rotorua Māori Wardens - whether you're a backpacker in town, a businessman, or before the courts. While they may fulfil the role of the police and security, they are one of the most selfless community organisations across the motu doing it for "Aroha ki te tangata - For the love of the people".

Published: Thursday, 30 January 2020 | Rāpare, 30 Kohitātea, 2020

The Rotorua Māori Wardens Community Trust office is tucked away upstairs on Hinemoa St, but you can't miss them when they're out on the beat.

You'll hear the laughter, see the popularity, but most of all you will feel their mana.

Gloria Tangihaere Hughes has always been a warden of Māoridom in practice, but she became a Māori Warden more formerly over 20 years ago.

"From when I was very young, whether we liked it or not, we just got hauled out there to help the Māori Wardens," she says with a laugh.

Now Hughes oversees the wardens in Rotorua, a group of people she says simply "have a calming effect because it's a natural approach of Māori to be nice to people".

"Any ethnicity, it doesn't worry us, we work with everybody ... It's just being that comforting approach to controlling what can erupt to become an incident if you don’t use specialist skills to engage."

Hughes believes, the wardens have used their influence and assistance to improve the lives of rangatahi in their rohe, particularly through their work with the Rangatahi Court.

Ngā Kōti Rangatahi operate in the same way as the Youth Court but are held on marae and follow tikanga Māori.

She says, "police are a big threat to some of our young people, and it's because both youth and police often lack understanding".

But often Hughes sees this change when the wardens host youth offenders and Rotorua police for morning tea together.

"In the end, they actually finally recognise that the police are humans ... And we do take them out, and it gives them the ability to interact with the public so that they see the other side of what they are doing. And they don't like what they see to be very honest."

She says the hardest part about being a warden is about equity.

"There are many people across New Zealand who demand the services of Māori Wardens, but they are not prepared to make any contribution financially for the services that are provided,” she says.

"They ring me and say, 'but you're a voluntary organisation' and I say 'we are a voluntary organisation but we are not rich and we have overheads to meet, we have resources to buy to allow us to be out there to provide you these services.'"

The Rotorua Māori Wardens Community Trust has been on the Charitable Trust Register since 2002. It receives partial funding from the government, some income from work that is paid for, and other funding from donations and grants.

When Hughes was president of the New Zealand Māori Wardens Association for nine years, she campaigned "to ensure wardens get the respect they deserve" and is still doing so now.

Hughes says about 70 per cent of cases of unruly behaviour in Rotorua can be de-escalated by the wardens, but about 30 per cent are directly referred to police.

She says the district's police "always give the wardens the grace to approach a situation first if it's safe to".  "The police will stand back, but they are always close by."

If a situation needs to be taken over by police, the wardens step back and clear bystanders away.

"In general, Rotorua is very good. Sure, we have our problems, but not like we used to," Gloria says.