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A future made by Tūhoe hands
28 April 2018

A new cultural hub in Ruatāhuna is the third eco-friendly building for Ngāi Tūhoe, representing their values of mana motuhake and self-sustainability. Jason Renes went to the opening and explored Tūhoe’s 40-year housing strategy.

This is part of a series on Māori land and housing.

Hokimoana Te Rika-Hekerangi sits on the courtyard of Te Tii. Her hair is cloudy white, her moko kauae is green-black. It almost gleams when the light touches the ink. She watches horses trot over hilly pastures across from the site. Over her head spans the canopy; an opaque covering, like a sheet of frozen mist supported by native wood rafters. It links the two charcoal-coloured timber and steel-clad main buildings. Nanny Hoki takes the time to enjoy her new tribal space now that the formalities are finished and it is open for all. Her whanaunga – the people of Ruatāhuna – are all around. They wander through the buildings, sit at the community gardens, and explore the grounds. Whenever someone approaches her to offer mihi she smiles and hums gladly. Embraces them tight, strokes their hands and their faces. And when they move on to continue their experience of Te Tii, Nanny Hoki enjoys her view of those hills.

Ruatāhuna isn’t just surrounded by hills. Hillocks and rises bulge right up from the valley floor itself then descend into gullies where masses of native shrubs grow. Te Tii sits right in the heart of this. When asked how it feels to have this new house in Ruatāhuna, Nanny Hoki replies: “I don’t know a good word to use for how I feel about this. I think with this building, this āhuatanga (sense of feeling), the changes it’s going to make – it’s going to make a difference for my whārua (area).”


Hokimoana Te Rika-Hekerangi relaxes in Te Whare Tangata. “To have this kind of building, the people will have somewhere where they will feel secure. Ko mākohakoha (They will feel tranquility), because of the kind of wairua that will be instilled in them from this āhua.” Image: Jason Renes

Te Tii is the third major build by Ngāi Tūhoe since they settled with the Crown three years ago. It started with Te Kura Whare in Taneātua, the first certified ‘Living Building’ outside of the U.S. Then Te Kura Whenua at Waikaremoana, which opened in 2016.

On the site are four chalets which will serve as accommodation for visitors. Whether they be tourists, or Tūhoe who live outside the whārua and are returning to reconnect with their whenua and whānau. There is a public wharepaku and laundry, and nearby a self-pay gas pump which will be an important service for Ruatāhuna residents. Up until now they have had to travel to Murupara to fill up, since their petrol was cut off more than 25 years ago. An artificial wetland has also been created which will treat grey water, and solar panels sit high and are tilted towards the north in order to catch the sun. These self-sustainable features are shared with the other Tūhoe buildings.

The two main structures of Te Tii will be significant hubs for the community. One houses a café and general store. Not only will it be a pit stop where tourists and travellers can stock up on supplies, it will also save locals another 40km trip over gravel roads to Murupara just to shop. These businesses represent an important economic opportunity for the whārua.

The other house includes the office for Ruatāhuna’s Tribal Authority, Tūhoe Manawarū. It is an open plan workspace with hui spaces, an archive, a radio station and a large lounge area where manuhiri and kaumātua can be welcomed and can rest. There are great slabs fitted into the interior walls of the office. Crafted from river mud they are designed to capture heat that will slowly be released throughout the day as the temperature changes. Another energy efficient link to Te Kura Whare and Te Kura Whenua. The name given to this building is Te Kura Tangata.

“This is a great thing for my whānau,” Nanny Hoki continues. “I’m sure it will make them feel more secure in their own whakaaro. I’m sure it’ll make them feel proud and they’ll stand with pride. This is what I think about this place. They’ll be in such a good position now, rather than doing things i roto i ngā whare tawhito (in the old houses).

“The old buildings will remain. With this āhua, it is so beautiful I’m sure it will make a change and renew things for Ruatāhuna while still holding on to what they have. What they will come out with in the future will be a bonus.”

These are more than just buildings.

Well before the settlement with the Crown was secured meetings were held all around Tūhoe communities. What came out of those discussions was a need for Tūhoe to signal to the country, the world and to themselves that they had survived. After 178 years of colonisation and a government policy of extermination, the houses that keep Tūhoe reo and tikanga are still standing.

Tāmati Kruger, who chairs Tūhoe’s governance organisation Te Uru Taumatua, calls these whare “proof of life.”

“They are an expression of our commitment to our homeland, our place, our environment. A declaration of our desire to practice what we preach around care for the environment and our whakapapa with our environment.

“They exhibit those characteristics that we wish for ourselves; highest form of autonomy, independence, self help. We come from nature, and add to nature. We’ve repeated that in Waikaremoana and in Ruatāhuna, and we will continue to repeat that as we design and build public buildings and move on to marae and homes.”


Te Uru Taumatua chair Tāmati Kruger at Tūhoe’s first post-settlement building, Te Whare Kura in Taneātua. “These buildings are proof of life. They are beacons to call Tūhoe together. To rally Tūhoe. To unite and bring some clarity and bring some form to their future.”

Te Kura Whare, Te Kura Whenua and Te Kura Tangata were created with the living building standard in mind, designed to operate cleanly and efficiently and to return as much as is extracted from the environment for the purposes of energy, warmth and water. Made from Te Urewera materials and by Tūhoe hands. The buildings display Tūhoe’s commitment to this standard and are templates to draw from as the iwi now looks to implement it’s housing plan. It is a strategy for the long term that will address Tūhoe’s housing needs over the next 40 years, with Tūhoetanga (Tūhoe language, history and way of life) and mana motuhake (self-determination) the main guiding principles.

The long-term housing goals are laid out in a 16-page document simply titled ‘Housing: 40 Year Vision.’ It details the targets Tūhoe want to meet over the next two generations. Housing configurations and locations, environmental impacts, affordability, spatial planning and resource management, design, infrastructure, skills capability and development for Tūhoe people. No boxes will be left unmarked as the strategy is rolled out.


The chalets stand on the rise behind the main buildings of Te Tii. Two are studio sized with mezzanines, one has a lounge and separate bedroom and the last is whānau sized with a lounge and two separate bedrooms. All units are fitted with small kitchenettes. Image: Jason Renes

One of the short-term actions will begin this year – a village inspired by what Tūhoe have learned from the three buildings. The Living Community Challenge provides an approach, with a focus on shared infrastructure in order to generate energy and capture and treat water. The first village will be in Waimana. Eventually, each tribal area will have two of these villages.

Kruger points out that the village concept is as much about lifestyle and a sense of belonging as it is about buildings. The emphasis will be on improving and building up existing papakāinga that orbit around marae. The hapū of those marae will be instrumental in the design of the villages. They will decide where to lay out the gardens, where the streets will lead, and where the flats for their kaumātua will be built.

At the other end of the 40-year vision are long-term objectives, and a major one is around ownership. Not only of the homes themselves but of the land they will be built on. It is key for Tūhoe that new homes are built on collectively-owned, ancestral land. And the ownership of this land will be determined by whakapapa, whānau and hapū – not the Māori Land Court.

“Why would any Māori want to continue working with the framework that stole your land in the first place? Why would we want to do that?” asks Kruger.

“There is nothing in the Māori Land Court that we want or desire. It is a system that facilitates individual ownership. Individual ownership is the opposite to collectivity. So the question to all Tūhoe is, which system would you like to live under? Would you like to continue to look at individual ownership? Or do you want to champion collective, hapū, whānau based living?

“Anything that the Māori Land Court can do, we can do.”

The kōrero always swings back around to whakapapa, mana motuhake and Tūhoetanga – values that are not embedded in the Māori Land Court. It is up to the Tūhoe people to hold fast to those principles and move toward a future of their own making. A future that is settled on systems and structures that foster kinship ties to the land and to one another. A future that no longer relies on outside institutions to provide health, education, social services and housing.

Kruger admits casting aside an institution like the Māori Land Court, in favour of a purely Tūhoe way of doing things, is not an entirely natural idea for every individual.

“We are at least two generations, or 40 years away, from naturalising that idea. At the moment it will not fly with many Māori. But Tūhoe are wanting to distance ourselves from the Crown. We are declaring a war on dependency, a war on ownership. We want to be fully accountable and responsible to ourselves. That doesn’t happen just because you say it.

“However, this is how one incurs change. You put the idea down and then you rattle it, and make sounds of that idea.”

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6 years ago Sharon Lambert