Marae programme push to decrease incarceration rates for Māori

By Dean Nathan

The solution to the mass incarceration of Māori is teaching inmates their native language and culture.  This from the organisers of a marae based programme on behalf of the Department of Corrections to help curb the high rates of Māori offending.

Joby Hopa hosts one such programme at his home marae of Pehiaweri in Whangarei.  He says, "The marae is the right place to host these programmes in our native tongue and our traditions because the participants benefit greatly from this experience.  Especially those living in cities like Whangarei."

Amongst those supporting his programme are elders who have taught Māori culture in prisons for years for the benefit of inmates.

Te Hari Te Kapo Tuwhakaea says, "The last time I heard from one of the jokers from out of Ngawha Prison, he was well off.  Yeah he's got a second life and he thanks us for giving him back his tikanga.  And that's what we do, we give them the tikanga that they never had."

Hopa says, "Theres a vast amount of information being shared in the meeting house and we rekindle our relationships and go to the kitchen for sustenance."  It is not a class he says but an emersion into family tribal and marae protocols. 

Takiri Puriri of Ngararatunua Marae on the outskirts of Whangarei says marae have always been the central focus of communities when dealing with issues such as offending.  He recalls elders in the 1970's lobbying the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon to initiate such policy. 

He says, "The marae is the right place for us and its the solution promoted by our forbears to deal with the issue at hand."

Participants in the 3 day programme are joined by their partners and children. It is held every two months for those keen to continue expanding their knowledge.

Hopa says, "Come tonight some will sleep, some will dream there'll be prayers and incantations in the dark hours and thats the real goal of this marae stay."