Source: University of Otago
New Te Huka Matauraka tumuaki Michelle Taiaroa-McDonald (centre) was welcomed to the University with a powhiri.
When Michelle Taiaroa-McDonald entered through the four walls of Te Huka Matauraka, there was a sense of returning home for the former Ōtākou Marae manager.
“You get reminded of those stories and realise this is where I’m supposed to be. When you’re manawhenua and you’re Māori and you’re passionate, and your tupuna have set the pathway to walk down, you walk down it. Your upbringing has stepped towards this and you carry on the responsibility.”
Taiaroa-McDonald, who is of Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha descent, started with Te Huka Matauraka in March. She replaced Pearl Matahiki, who finished as the tumuaki of the centre after 18 years.
Taiaroa-McDonald says taking the reins as the Centre manager is something that excites her.
“The kaupapa of the Maori Centre really drew me in,” she says.
“I’m born and bred in the kaika at Ōtākou and lived at the foot of the marae all my life, so the manaaki is strong in me. The kaupapa for the Māori Centre around caring for tauira that have come from a long way away is vital.
“The manaaki we have in our Māori kete is something that we can release to ease some of the burden that our Māori tauira have.”
Flanked by runaka leaders, a wealth of whanau and Huriwhenua, the Taiaroa whanau korowai, Taiaroa-McDonald was formally welcomed into the University fold at a powhiri last week.
At the powhiri, numerous references were made to the late Kuao Langsbury, the former Ōtākou upoko who was one of many Ngai Tahu leaders calling on the University to improve conditions for Māori. Te Huka Matauraka, the Māori Centre, was formed as a result in 1989.
Taiaroa-McDonald is a product of the Māori Clerical Cadetship in the 1980s.
For Taiaroa-McDonald, a descendant of Langsbury, the opportunity to move into the role of tumuaki in a space her whanau had helped create is an honour.
“You get reminded of those stories and realise this is where I’m supposed to be.
“When you’re manawhenua and you’re Māori and you’re passionate, and your tupuna have set the pathway to walk down, you walk down it.
“Your upbringing has stepped towards this and you carry on the responsibility.”
Taiaroa-McDonald has spent the last four years working as manager of Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and previous to that 17 years managing their subsidary company A3Kaitiaki who specialise in working with Māori caught in the criminal justice system.
Taiaroa-McDonald praised Matahiki, Alva Kapa, Kyhla Russell and their predecessors for the work they had done to support the thousands of students who had gone through the Centre doors since it opened its doors.
One of the big focuses for the Centre is continuing to provide the same level of manaaki for the students despite a record number of enrolments. In 2021, there are projected to be 2400 tauira Māori for the first time.
For now, Taiaroa-McDonald is planning to spend the first 90 days building relationships with key University roopu, while also learning more about the foundations of the Centre.
“I don’t want to change a thing. I just want to keep the heart of the kaupapa and stick to that pathway.”
A product of the Māori Clerical Cadetship in the 1980s, Taiaroa-McDonald has spent 36 years working in the criminal justice sector, including 18 years working at Dunedin Prison.
She hopes tauira who are coming to Otago for the first time will continue to strengthen connections to mana whenua.
“Extending manaaki from Ōtākou as manawhenua is one of the things I love and look forward to being able to do,” she adds.
“To be able to create a circle of tautoko from a mana whenua position adds to that experience they’ll have at Otago.”