23 Aug 2018

Local iwi fight for Māori catholic school to stay open

10:16 am on 23 August 2018

Supporters of a Māori catholic school in Auckland will make a last-ditch effort to save it from closure at a meeting with the Education Minister today.

Hori Tewhiu and Reti Boynton

Hori Tewhiu and Reti Boynton Photo: RNZ / Eden More

Hato Petera College had just one student this year, prompting the government, in June, to consider closing its doors for good.

In 1955 Hato Petera College was a thriving Māori catholic boarding school with a roll of more than 200 students.

Today, big wooden boards cover the windows of the old classrooms, the grass is overgrown and there's not a single student in sight.

Reti Boynton is among 30 other members of local iwi Ngāti Paoa who have moved into the wharenui at the school, refusing to leave in protest.

"We are here to stay now, my new address is over there at that marae, that's my home now, me and my family are all living there until this is all sorted out."

Old classrooms at Hato Petera College.

Old classrooms at Hato Petera College. Photo: RNZ / Eden More

In 1850 the Catholic Church was given a Crown land grant that was supposed to support and maintain Māori education on the site.

Local Principal Caroline Miller said that obligation hasn't been met, and the church needs to step-up to support the school.

"I would like to see the school remain open with huge financial support from the church, and from iwi and from the government to make it into a center of excellence."

Mr Boynton was determined to bring the school back to life.

"Once we get this back into our rightful hands, we will actually get this kura back up and running. To actually acknowledge what our tūpuna wanted it to be for the education of Māori, to educate Māori."

Wharenui that local iwi Ngāti Paoa are living in.

Wharenui that local iwi Ngāti Paoa are living in. Photo: RNZ / Eden More

But he was convinced the Education Minister had already made up his mind.

"Personally I've got no faith in the meeting...I already know that this kura is not going to go back into working order, they've already made their decision, it's already gone through it's unification of finalisation.

"It's all over. The kura is all over so now we simply want our whenua back."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins is expected to visit the school today with Māori ministers Kelvin Davis and Peeni Henare to hear from Hato Petera supporters trying to keep the college open.

The minister was not available to comment.

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