Mahi mo te aroha o te iwi | Work for the love of the people

01 February 2023

  • Wynyard Quarter
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  • Mana Whenua

The grim reality of life in Aotearoa’s largest city can sometimes be saddening.

People like Māori Warden Blaine doing the mahi to make life a little less tough for those having it toughest.

Maori Wardens

The grim reality of life in Aotearoa’s largest city can sometimes be saddening, but there are people like Māori Warden Blaine doing the mahi to make life a little less tough for those having it toughest.

Blaine Hoete can tell how many people are sleeping in a car by the amount of condensation on the windows. “It might be a Honda Odyssey, a Toyota Hiace, or an old Kia van… You can tell by the level of condensation on the windows, how many people are sleeping in it. If water is running down the inside of the glass, you know you have a big family sleeping in there. If there’s light condensation, maybe it’s a single parent and a child.”

The grim reality of life in Aotearoa’s largest city can sometimes be saddening, but there are people like Māori Warden Blaine doing the mahi to make life a little less tough for those having it toughest.


“We don’t say we are security – we are there to keep the community safe. This is for Māori and non-Māori and this is done through our use of the traditional concept of manaakitanga”—



Compassionate connectors, the Māori Wardens provide a purpose-driven piece in modern society’s complex jigsaw. A crucial link in the chain of support across 2020s Aotearoa, the concept of Māori wardenship is nothing new. Back in the 19th Century, high jinks on the marae were handled by the original Māori Wardens. When conscription was introduced in World War One, the Māori Wardens provided administrative support. In the 1960s, as police presence became more commonplace on marae, Princess Te Puea Hērangi was effective in replacing their presence with Māori Wardens instead.

Unique to Aotearoa, these community guardians provide a service to people and places that stretches beyond gap filling, though. In delivering briefs across health, arts, administration, surveillance and sustenance, hundreds of trained wardens provide an irreplaceable service, linking leaders, organisations, resources and hands-on help, every minute of every day, where and when it is needed.

Auckland’s waterfront is one such place where their presence is powerfully yet placidly felt. Eke Panuku Development Auckland entered into a partnership with the organisation in July this year, to support its work in ensuring one of its priority locations is a thriving, safe place to be. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week across Tāmaki Makaurau, the Māori Wardens work on the waterfront overnight on the weekends, providing support, shelter, security and more.

Blaine Hoete is the vastly connected operating manager who oversees the work of the wardens. Former frontline tribal liaison officer for Waikato-Tainui, Blaine has also been a caregiver for Oranga Tamariki for over 25 years. He joined as a volunteer at the start of the Covid lockdown, when the Māori Wardens were providing a pivotal role in managing isolation facilities and, later, the nationwide vaccination programme.

“As the Māori Wardens don’t have particular iwi connotations, we provide a service to all Māori, and non-Māori. Therein lies the concept of manaakitanga,” he says. Blaine’s frontline line service management background lends itself perfectly to be the brains behind the operation. “I understand the kaupapa,” he smiles. “When I support a person, I make sure they get the services they need. If they require housing assistance, for example, I pick up the phone and I know who to connect with to get things happening fast.”

As well as working alongside the NZ Police and other agencies in keeping the places and people he loves safe, Blaine nourishes those in need too, starting a community kitchen in Tūākau, pre-Covid pandemic. This is now used to prepare free school lunches as part of the Ministry of Education’s programme. Leftover lunches and produce are used to feed people who find themselves living on the streets in the City Centre.

The Māori Wardens have a new base in the central city after Eke Panuku Development Auckland moved beyond engaging the wardens’ services on Auckland’s waterfront. It has repurposed and upgraded a disused building for the wardens to use, enabling the wardens to relocate from their initial operations hub in the Karanga Kiosk.

Eke Panuku Facilities Manager Brend Wesseling worked alongside Programmed Property Services to navigate through a stringent and, at times, complex minor facilities maintenance project, delivering a critical operational staging area for the Māori Wardens in under a month.

“We have completed a transformation of an old property on Sturdee Street for the wardens to take up a lease to use for their ongoing operations and activations for the homeless,” says Brend.

“We plan to work with the wardens ongoing and look forward to formally and culturally welcoming them into their new space.”

Blaine is delighted with the new premises, which he says can be used as a hub for the operations as well as providing a place to shower, eat, and shelter from the elements. An old toilet, kitchen and shower area have been ripped out and replaced with new facilities.

Operating under legislation laid out in the Māori Community Development Act 1962, the Māori Wardens exercise powers akin to those of a junior constable, says Blaine.

“We don’t say we are security – we are there to keep the community safe. This is for Māori and non-Māori and this is done through our use of the traditional concept of manaakitanga.”

On Auckland’s waterfront, the Māori Wardens record the registration numbers of cars driving dangerously, their location and any anti-social issues they are causing. They deal with drunk and disorderly behaviour, create reports, which are shared with the police and NGOs. “We then let the powers that be deal with it from there,” says Blaine.

“Our prime responsibility is to deflect. There are no services available after 5pm on a Friday until 9am on Monday, other than the police. We’re there 24/7.

“By week four of operating down there, we saw a huge drop in the numbers of issues and incidents.”

Eke Panuku Asset and Facilities Manager Maurice Banse has taken a lead role in the partnership between the wardens and the Council Controlled Organisation. He says, “The collaboration between Eke Panuku staff, our contractors and Māori Wardens has been purpose driven and inspiring to be a part of.”

In a recent independent security review across Eke Panuku managed waterfront spaces, an auditor interviewed and observed the wardens’ mahi and commented on the relationship. Excerpts from the report include the following:

  • Eke Panuku has the absolute privilege of a close working relationship with Māori Wardens throughout the Tāmaki Makaurau region, including the Wynyard Quarter, and more recently, the Westhaven Marina.
  • This is an excellent resource, and Māori Wardens bring an additional valuable layer of communication, security skills, and warranted powers to benefit safety.
  • At the time of writing the report (early October 2022), Māori Wardens were due to move into their new base in Sturdee Street. This is a project that has been implemented particularly effectively and will provide a much-needed central hub for Māori Wardens to operate from.
  • As Māori Wardens are largely trained with police skills and fundamentals, they have broad-ranging skills and powers which civilians and security staff do not have.

Using his cultural knowledge and experience, as well as his extensive contacts, Blaine is guiding the Māori Wardens in ways that work to support not only those using the service but those providing it.

Blaine thrives on connecting people to the help they need and ‘getting things done’. “I’ve written many management plans in my time, but it’s pointless having a plan that sits on a shelf. It has to be a living plan; a plan that works in a practical sense.

“Generational transfer of knowledge from kaumātua to mokopuna, I already know, works. We support. We listen. It’s about playing the same song with the same tune.”

Yes, they provide incident reports to the police and agencies, but their work extends way further. The Māori Wardens provide not only security support, but play a key role in traffic management, first aid, crowd control and give support to street sleepers, car sleepers and countless people in need. The organisation has an agreement with Auckland City Mission to help deliver food parcels to struggling families, for example.

When homeschooling proved impossible for some rangatahi during lockdown, Blaine saw a way to help. “I see our role as planting seeds and providing stepping stones,” he says. “Many rangatahi were on the verge of not having an education because of lockdown and the inability to work from home on their schoolwork. There were very, very high anxiety levels among young people who weren’t responding well to being locked up at home with their families. We were hearing from parents that their teenage sons and daughters didn’t want homeschooling; they missed social contact with others and wanted to get out of the house and work.

“So, we took on over 200 rangatahi during Covid who have gone on to employment as a result of the skills and experience they learned through their work as Māori Wardens.”

These young people were involved in setting up roadblocks, working with police and armed forces, and, for example, shepherding 600-700 cars per day through the airport-based vaccination centre.

“They could see their potential future right in front of them, there in the raw flesh,” says Blaine. “They could talk to these people who they were working alongside and ask them questions, get advice, hear their stories.

“One of our jobs is to give young people tools. We provide training and equip them with the best tools to do the best job – whatever that may be. It could be security for vaccination centres, St John’s Ambulance support for events, DHB support, crowd management and other frontline staff.”

The wardens also assisted the Ministry of Education delivering modems into homes, as well as providing support to police during freedom protest marches.

Despite the impressive numbers of Māori Wardens engaged across our communities, Blaine says more volunteers are always sought, as is equipment. “We could really use a commercial kitchen facility to be able to make more hot meals,” he says. “At present we can prepare rolls and snacks, but it would be great to be able to produce more food on a larger scale.

“We also need our own van. At present, we borrow them from different NGOs and providers, as and when we can, but having 24-hour access to our own vehicle would be very useful,” says Blaine. Storage space is also a need he would like to see filled.

Leading with humanity, the Māori Wardens organisation works in ways that offer hope.

“We support people when they need it and help equip them with the tools they need, when they need them. No matter where the people we engage with are in life, we bring them to the now.”

And, as tools go for carving plans out that work - for those giving and receiving - it’s a powerful place to start.

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