Bachelor of Architecture graduate and Ngā Wai A Te Tūī researcher Keisha Rawiri (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Hāmoa) has been awarded a grant from The Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust (KEECT) which will contribute to her Master of Architecture (Professional) Project supporting the regeneration of Tau Henare Marae in Te Taitokerau (Northland).
Keisha’s Masters project represents an extremely significant journey of connection on a professional and personal level.
KEECT Awards Coordinator Katrina Ford says Keisha’s hard work and determination to succeed combined with dedication to her whānau and community epitomizes the values of the Trust.
“”What made her application special compared to the many other excellent applications is how her referees spoke about how Keisha supports her colleagues and fellow students at Unitec, despite her many commitments. The application process for the Master’s Degree Awards is very competitive. This is the first time a student from Unitec has received one of our Master’s Awards, so we hope that Keisha’s success will encourage other Unitec students to apply.”
It is a significant milestone for Keisha, who took up her studies as a mature student to pursue her dream as a teenager of becoming an architect. But, as she says, then life happened.
She says that her interest sprang from a keen interest in art and having an analytical brain. “I figured architecture was a great way to put them together, but my high school didn’t have the resources or the programmes to support jumping into architecture. Then I moved to Australia and could not finish my final year of high school because of the difference between the two schooling systems.”
Keisha found a job in banking and finance, where she stayed for eight years, especially as her family grew welcoming her son. However, while taking maternity leave for her second son, Keisha had the time and opportunity to reflect on her life and career and decided it was time to follow her dream of becoming an architect.
Before she committed herself, however, she started with a foundation art course at AUT.
“As part of that, I went on a Heritage walk in Tāmaki Makaurau through the city centre. I wasn’t sold on doing architecture and was still in the art space. But one building in upper Queen Street inspired me. The tutor spoke about it; its history, and how it went through these different functions and programs that it had served throughout its lifetime.”
“I thought, I want to be a part of the design of a building that lasts that long too! I want to contribute to a building with that much history that tells a story of a place and the people over time. It was just this simple-looking building, yet it held rich stories.”
However, after having two children and working in finance, she was still unsure whether she could manage the academic load.
“I needed to test my brain capacity, so I took some papers through the Open Polytechnic to see if I could do the work. I did some architecture and design papers, and I aced those – so I was like, okay, go for it!”
She decided on Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka (Unitec) Bachelor of Architecture for practical reasons – as a mum of two, accessibility was essential for her. The Kate Edgar Charitable Trust helped in this early stage as well, she says.
“They were also part of my beginning architectural studies journey. In my first year, I applied to them for a scholarship and was awarded a $2000 Tressa Thomas Retraining award, which assists mature women to retrain in a profession.”
Having completed her bachelor’s degree, Keisha is now starting her Master’s project, which has its origin in an internship she undertook in her second year.
“One of the big things for me was that I was born and raised Samoan. I grew up with a solo mother who returned to study as a mature student. My mother modelled age should never be an obstacle to further education. I also grew up surrounded by my nana and grandpa, who were fluent in Samoan and ensured that my Samoan identity was strong. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an established relationship with my father, who is Māori. Then I had this reconnection with my whakapapa on his side that sprang from an internship with Matakohe Architecture and Urbanism in Whangārei, which Jade Kake leads.”
“One of the criteria was to have whakapapa in the area, and mine was with Tau Henare, or Pipiwai Marae, which is 40 minutes inland, to the west of Kamo.”
The marae belongs to the hapū Te Orewai, which affiliates to the iwi of Ngāti Hine. Its main wharenui, also named Tau Henare, was built in 1940 and carved by George (Hori) Waititi, honouring the parliamentarian Taurekareka (Tau) Henare (1878-1940).
“Through the internship journey, I visited my marae and participated in their Waimā Waita Waiora wānanga, staying two nights. That was about caring for our wai and protecting the life of tuna (eel), which has a significant role in our hapū narratives. Through that, I connected with my aunties and cousins.”
“I hadn’t met them before, my extended whānau on my father’s side. That’s where my journey started. I met my relation Delaraine at a hui talking about the Resource Management Act with several hapū representatives. After I did my pepeha, she came to me and said: ‘That’s my marae, who are you, where are you from?’”
“That’s how that relationship flourished through my whakapapa on my father’s side and my architecture journey.”
Through discussion with whānau, one of the aspirations that initiated the research project was to breathe life back into Ngā Tau e Toru, the original wharenui of Tau Henare marae built-in 1893, before the larger Tau Henare whare tupuna was built in the mid-19th century.
Then Ngā tau e Toru housed the Kōhanga Reo, with koro and kuia sharing knowledge with mokopuna with te reo, breathing life back into the whare. Over the years, natural wear and tear meant it became unsafe for whānau use. Eventually, it was disestablished as a functioning whare on the marae and currently sits vacant and unutilised. As a research project, it is quite special because through the process of whakawhanaungatanga and as the researcher, because of my whakapapa connection, I share a strong relationship with the people and the place and further expresses the Kaupapa Māori lens the research project is adopting. For Māori, whakapapa, history, and cultural narratives are passed down and Ngā Tau e Toru is part of the marae history, a precious taonga. It is about the narrative.”
Keisha says she cannot do it alone and that Ngā Wai a Te Tūi and Te Kupenga o MAI have been instrumental academics as part of her master’s journey. She receives additional support from her mini village of whānau support at home and from the Māori and Pasifika support networks at Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka (Unitec).
Once the project is complete, the hapū will receive the final report, says Keisha.
“Tau Henare marae whānau will receive the final report as a koha – as a thank you for their time and contribution. The hope is that they can use it as a design advocacy report to support the marae’s current and future aspirations. It will include a visual representation of Ngā Tau e Toru’s regeneration where hapū were in the driver’s seat, leading the visioning, aspirations, and design development – bringing the history of Nga Tau e Toru forward rather than sitting unutilised.”