The digital marae – helping connect iwi around the country

Published: Nov 20, 2020

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The Provincial Development Unit is investing up to $1.8 million to help train iwi to get the most out of the programme to digitally connect marae.

Two women help a boy with his homework using digital technology such as a laptop, tablet and mobile phone

Caeser Walker-Leota (centre) researches his homework online at Iwitea Marae, Wairoa thanks to the Marae Digital Connectivity Programme. He’s assisted by his great-grandmother Josephine Palmer (left) and grandmother Liz Palmer.

The government announced the marae connectivity and regional digital hubs programme in February 2019, with funding of $21 million, boosted by another $3 million in October 2020.

Under the programme, over half the 440 marae which applied are now connected and had hardware upgrades.  It is expected all 440 marae will be connected by mid-2021.

The marae training being funded by the Provincial Development Unit investment is being provided by Aatea Solutions and Te Wananga o Aotearoa.  They will teach marae communities how to use Wi-Fi, video conferencing and social media as well as dealing with connection issues and internet safety.

One rural Hawke’s Bay marae already benefitting is Iwitea near Wairoa, which says reliable connectivity has become an invaluable resource during their marae wananga for students.

Te Puni Kōkiri is managing the relationship with marae and spokesperson Ngawa Hall says Iwitea Marae told it the digital programme’s benefits were quickly apparent.

“They took the time to send a thank you note to Te Puni Kōkiri after their marae was connected and we loved the image they created for us with this quote:

“Our chairman and her mokopuna were at the marae on Tuesday waiting for the installation team.  Her mokopuna was doing his homework on-line by the fire in our kitchen, this wouldn’t have been possible before connectivity. All three of us ended up on-line helping him. Te pai hoki.”

Ngawa Hall says they are thrilled to be working with marae to improve their digital connectivity.

To ensure the connectivity programme is delivered, Crown Infrastructure Partners is overseeing 11 contractors, with Spark responsible for hardware installation.

Spark’s Māori Development Lead Riki Hollings says as part of the programme, Spark is providing staff with cultural competency training.

“Our people are finding this kaupapa incredibly rewarding,” Riki Hollings says.

“We have had people be part of a mihi whakatau or a full powhiri for the first time which is a powerful experience. We have even had people reconnect to their marae thanks to being involved in this kaupapa.

“And then to be able to walk away and know our whanau, hapu and iwi are now connected to the digital world is even more rewarding.”

The marae connectivity and regional digital hubs programme is a key part of the government’s drive to improve digital accessibility in provincial and rural New Zealand to not only support jobs and skills development, but also ensure all Kiwis are socially included.

Improved connectivity will help whānau, hapū and iwi acquire the skills they need to participate in the wider economy while increasing productivity of established and emerging local businesses.  It will also help rangatahi and whānau learn the skills they need to be part of the modern workforce.