Keeping it cool under pressure

Published on Rāpare, 28 Whiringa ā-rangi, 2019

Often a calm reassuring word from a respected person is all it takes to diffuse a situation that has the potential to get out of hand says one of the training stalwarts of the Tāmaki ki te Tonga Māori Wardens – she knows she’s been doing this for over 40 years.

Matarora Smith, Ngāti Wairupe, Ngāti Kuri understands keeping things cool is an important role that she and her fellow Māori wardens do in their urban environment.

However, as the Māori Wardens district coordinator and regional trainer Matarora sees an even bigger role is to shift from resolving problems to preventing them from occurring.

The Māori Wardens’ spend a lot of time working with schools and whānau, including Wiri Central School in South Auckland.

The Wardens’ assist with transporting school students to sports and cultural events, and the schools invite them into the classroom to help with reading, fun days and barbecues.

The Māori Wardens’ will even go as far a Parakai to ensure local kids can participate in a children’s Ironman event. The local Māori Wardens office is located beside Wiri Central School and it shares the premises with Audrey Williams, manager of the Wiri Business Association.

The Wardens’ frequently provide a van and driver for Wiri businesspeople to go on a trip around the area to identify trouble spots.

“We get to know who the businesses are and what the problems are around their premises,” says Matarora.

“The driver gets to know who’s doing what and when he comes back to the office, he briefs us, and we’ll include the area in a night patrol.”

Māori Wardens work alongside New Zealand Police conducting community safety reassurance. They assist in situations where a problem may have been identified, such as boy racers repeatedly returning to a spot.

In areas that are extremely culturally diverse, the shopkeepers and business owners know who the Wardens’ are and tell the Wardens when kids are up to mischief and they want something done about the situation.

“It’s not often that people don’t know who we are, and our uniforms identify us as Māori Wardens,” says Matarora.

All wardens are volunteers and there are 10 Māori sub-associations in the district that Matarora works with from Howick to Māngere and Pukekohe in the south.

Every district knows her well as she is responsible for delivering their training sessions. For her education is pivotal to their role and to becoming a Māori Warden.

“You need to assess the situation and then you need to know how to break the ice and putting people at ease if they are dealing with police. Whether they are Māori, Pacific Island, European or Asian we work with them all,” says Matarora.

“It’s always in the approach that makes a difference, but training ensures our wardens have the right skills to deal with these situations which is really important.

“We do this for the love of the people, we all our volunteers and we just keep coming back because we love the job and being in service to our communities.”

Matarora was recognised at the National Māori Wardens Conference 2019 at Tūrangawaewae Marae for her 40 years plus continuous service to the kaupapa of the Māori Wardens.

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