Runanga builds 'tools' to help Maori
By KARLA AKUHATA, Waikato Times, 6 June 2009
Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa, a representative group for urban Maori and Polynesian people, launched its commercial arm in Hamilton this week.
Maori King Tuheitia opened the steel frames factory and gymnasium on the Runanga's Higgins Rd site during a blessing ceremony on Thursday night.
The Rezlab Steel Structures factory will make steel housing frames. The gym, with manager Melinda Paki, will focus on family health.
The joint venture already employs 11 people. Chief executive Mere Balzer, made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday honours, said the group would look to hire more staff despite the tough economic times. Plans to open the businesses had started long before the recession hit and the unveiling realised a two-year dream to capitalise on the group's assets.
"There is lots of evidence showing Maori are the worst affected in times of recession," she said. "We are the first to lose our jobs and the last to be rehired. These businesses provide us with tools to help our people."
The group had identified home ownership as one of the ways to help Maori and Polynesian people in Hamilton, Mrs Balzer said.
"We looked at a number of options but eventually we ended up with this steel-house product," she said.
"It is an economical and sustainable product that will let us build strong and affordable homes.
"What we want to do is create enough of a profit to make the business viable and provide us with the money to give philanthropic support to the community."
The runanga was set up in 1987 as a charitable trust and an urban Maori authority in Hamilton, under the guidance of the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu and former Hamilton mayor Ross Jansen.
Trust chairman Matiu Dickson said the group also had other works in the pipeline, including petitioning for compulsory Maori representation on the Hamilton City Council through a Treaty of Waitangi claim.
The group is also encouraging the Enderley community to think about what could be built on a vacant former state-housing site near the Enderley Community Centre.
The runanga has suggested a marae-like centre that would be open to the whole community, and has enrolled the help of the Enderley Neighbourhood Support Group.
The residents' group is considering the idea, and other options, and is planning a community meeting in the next month to discuss proposals.