PGF support transforms dream into reality

Published: Aug 7, 2019 · Updated: Dec 1, 2020

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  • Northland/Te Tai Tokerau

Establishing a Māori cultural centre in Whangārei has been decades in the making.

A group of people viewing art at the Hihaua Cultural Centre

People viewing art from emerging Maori artists at Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangārei.

Support from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has led to the recent opening of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre.

The centre, opening in June this year, was established to showcase Māori art in all its forms, and to provide a place for all people to visit and connect with Te Ao Māori.

Janet Hetaraka, the project coordinator for the centre, described the PGF support as the “answer to all our prayers”, bridging a gap in funding following initial financial commitments from Foundation North and the Whangārei District Council.

“We had to hold off starting the project for several years because we couldn’t reach our funding target. Without the support of the PGF, I think we’d still be waiting to start construction.”

The driving force behind the project has been the advancement of Māori culture.

“Many years ago there were local Kaumatua and civic leaders who wanted a Māori presence in Whangārei. At the time, you could drive through the city and not know any Māori lived here. ”

Master carver Te Warahi Hetaraka, based in Whangārei, says supporting a vibrant Māori community is important for everyone.

The centre puts Māori culture front-and-centre in Whangārei, he says.

“Giving our people the opportunity to showcase art, particularly our tai tamariki, uplifts their confidence and helps to build understanding of our culture across the public. This is good for everyone – it brings us all closer together.”

Asked what funding from the PGF meant to the project, the Hetaraka’s were clear – the funding was critical to the project, and was the last piece of the puzzle needed to get construction underway.

Te Warahi said getting projects like Hihiaua off the ground can often be challenging for Māori.

“Over the years we have tried and tried to get the cultural centre over the line, and the PGF meant we were finally able to do it.”

Minister Shane Jones in front of a waiata at the Hihiaua Cultural Centre.

Minister Shane Jones finishes speaking as a waiata begins at the opening of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangārei.