By Simon Collins
About 100 people at Northcote’s embattled Hato Petera College have urged Education Minister Chris Hipkins to keep the school open.
Former students and Māori leaders spoke passionately of the way the college inspired them to be proud to be Māori in a way that mainstream schools could not at a meeting called by Hipkins to hear public views on the college’s future.
Kaumātua Wimutu Te Whiu spoke of how “Aunty Whina” Cooper had declared that “not one more inch” of Māori land would be sold.
Business owner Troy Baker, who was sent to the school from Northland in 1992, urged the Government and the Catholic Church, which owns the school, to face up to sexual abuse which occurred at the school so it could move forward.
“It happened at a time when it was not discussed” he said.
“We have got these tools now to put protection in place,” he said.
He suggested that the college could be reopened for older students in Years 11 to 13 with an emphasis on trades.
Another old boy Rātahi Tomuri, representing Te Whānau Whānui o Hato Petera, presented a $47 million plan to redevelop the college, with a retirement village, an aquatic centre and flats for tertiary students as sources of income to make the college financially independent.
Kotahitanga Aotearoa Movement leader Reti Hohaia Netana Boynton, who has been leading an occupation of the site, was allowed into the meeting and urged Hipkins to keep the college open.
Hipkins said he would take more time to consider what everyone had said before deciding whether to cancel the college’s integration agreement with the state, which would see it close.
“At the moment there are not any students enrolled,” he said.
“This isn’t just about whether to continue with the integration agreement, it’s about what happens now , what is the future for Māori education on this site.”
Catholic Bishop of Auckland Pat Dunn said the land was given to the Church by Governor George Grey for the education of children of “both races” Māori and Pākehā, and the Church would honour that.
“Our problem over the years has been that Māori parents have chosen not to send their children here,” he said.
“I don’t know how to turn that around. Restarting a school from scratch would be a huge challenge.”
The Church has not yet heard from Hipkins but its Vicar of Education Linda McQuade gave the minister her card as he left.