Corrections staff at the historic St Michael’s Church.A working party from Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF) has started working at the historic St Michael’s Church and Urupā in Ōhaeawai. This is a positive result from a growing partnership between the facility and mana whenua Ngāti Rangi.

The church occupies the original pa of rangatira Pene Taui, the site of the one of the most significant battles in the Northern Wars at Ōhaeawai in July 1845.  The British suffered their heaviest defeat losing up to 47 soldiers who were interred nearby.  In 1871, 26 years later the church was built as a gesture of gratitude to an English woman Dorothy Weale who was responsible for rescuing a group of Māori taken to London in 1863 by Rev William Jénkins. After disagreements about itinerary arrangements and accommodation they chose to part company. She paid the group’s  first class ship passage back to New Zealand. Upon their arrival home, Ngāti Rangi rangatira Reihana Taukawau wrote to Dorothy Weale and asked how they could repay her generosity. She replied with "build a church".

With the site and church being so important to Ngāti Rangi, Acting Assistant Prison Director Joel Lauterbach said the facility welcomed the opportunity to start working with the hapū on its upkeep and maintenance.

“We have been meeting regularly with Ngāti Rangi over the last year as we develop a positive working partnership in line with our Hōkai Rangi direction and what we are trying to achieve with our Māori Pathways programme,” says Joel.

“In this case, five to seven men are going to be working Ōhaeawai each week doing weeding and maintenance. Their work involves grass trimming and tidying grave sites, as well as some minor restorative work for the historic rock wall that surrounds the church. Like all guided release activity, the opportunity to get used to working on the outside is hugely beneficial to the men.

“A Ngāti Rangi kaumātua is supervising the work, and helping the men's understanding of the history of the site, and the tikanga around working in such a tapu place.

“They worked hard and really enjoyed the day.  I was heartened when one of the men told me that he had tipuna buried in the urupā and had found it very special to be helping with the upkeep.”

Adrienne Tari, who chairs the St Michael’s Church and Urupā Committee said when NRCF reached out and said it would like to work on the site it complemented the work both parties are doing to establish a good relationship.

“The timing is ideal as Ngāti Rangi is about to start plans to renovate the church and is also looking forward to celebrating its 150th anniversary next year,” says Adrienne.

Joel says that good partnership with mana whenua was critical to goals Te Ara Poutama Aotearoa has to decreasing the proportion of Māori in the Corrections system.

“We are part of the Māori Pathways programme which is looking at trialling ways of using kaupapa Māori and whānau-centred approaches in a person’s rehabilitation journey.

“We cannot do that properly without a partnership with mana whenua and other hapū throughout our region.

“Ngāti Rangi have been part of the Māori Pathways co-design work.  As that progresses, it is great to work with them in a wide range of ways,” Joel says.