Marae bridges digital divide with nationwide connectivity program

The Marae Trusts studied digital technology as part of a $ 24 million plan to connect hundreds of marae across the country with broadband.

Marae representatives receive training on how to make the most of digital connectivity and technology installed in New Zealand’s marae
Photo: LDR / Moana Ellis

The Marae digital connectivity program aimed at improving digital access in the provinces and rural areas of Aotearoa is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and other state agencies and administered by Te Puni Kōkiri.

Spark New Zealand installs the hardware with a range of partners, including wireless internet and satellite internet providers.

Anaru Tuhi, Spark’s corporate relations partner, said about 550 marae across the country are enrolled in the program, and the 400th digital marae was connected this month.

The Marae are equipped with Wi-Fi as well as Cel-Fi mobile signal boosters in areas with poor mobile service, allowing calls and texts to be sent from the marae. The facility includes security cameras to enhance marae security and audiovisual technology to enable virtual communication. Connectivity services are provided free of charge to marae for five years.

Tuhi said installations began in late 2019 and are expected to be completed early next year.

Ōpaea Marae, just north of Taihape, has reaped the benefits of digital activation.

Marae administrator Mel Maniapoto said connectivity is helping bridge the digital divide by giving hapū Ngāti Tamakopiri and his community better access to reliable internet, quality technology and support services technological.

One of the immediate benefits was allowing whānau who lived elsewhere to stay connected to their hapū and virtually join hui or wānanga.

“A lot of our whānau don’t live with them, most of our administrators don’t live with them. Connecting whānau who don’t live in the Taihape area – this is a way for us to connect through Zoom,” he said. declared Maniapoto.

Having access to the digital world is especially important for the rangatahi in the community, Maniapoto said. The technology will allow the marae community to work with their young people to support new avenues of skills development, innovation and planning for the future.

“Succession is an important goal for us. Rangatahi are our future … but not just our future – they are here now and we want to involve them in potential opportunities. This is a place for rangatahi – to bring them back to the House.”

The marae is also studying business opportunities that have been enhanced by recent digital empowerment, such as hosting wānanga or conferences and virtual collaboration.

“Our marae can provide a virtual connection anywhere in the world, as well as the necessary facilities for conferences such as internet connection, PowerPoint presentations, and screen and document sharing.”

Comprehensive training on how to use the technology is being rolled out nationwide by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as part of the initiative.

Lee Timutimu, managing director and founder of training partner Arataki Systems, said it was a privilege to see the barriers to digital capacity dissolve as the marae became “inspired and activated” by new technology.

In the last training session, around 25 marae representatives from Rangitīkei, Ruapehu, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Whanganui spent two and a half days at Whangaehu Marae to learn how to get the most out of technology.

“This is our sixth noho now here in Whanganui, so we have made contact with a lot of marae and marae administrators. The return is that the kōrero and mātauranga shared here are very necessary.

“They have the tools and the knowledge to be able to use this really cool, high-quality technology.

“It really opens up possibilities and opportunities for our marae in terms of connectivity to their wider hapū, whānau, hapori – and it also opens up potential for economic development.”

Whangaehu Marae administrator Kiri Thompson said Marae's digital connectivity program

Whangaehu Marae administrator Kiri Thompson said Marae’s digital connectivity program “brings us to the present”.
Photo: LDR / Moana Ellis

Whangaehu Marae has been using the new technology for about seven months. Administrator Kiri Thompson said the training showed the marae how he can use technology to operate more efficiently. The Marae Trust and its community could now share or collaborate on plans, documents, hui minutes, pānui “and even the lawn mowing list” faster, easier and more widely.

Secure cloud storage options for archiving and storing digital documents would also be invaluable.

“The whole system just brings us to the present,” Thompson said.

“We used it for zoom hui – zui. We also used it for one of our tangihanga during the Covid-19 restrictions, where we were limited in the number of people who could come, and so we l ‘used for the service.

“It brings benefits to our marae. Our kids love it, and it’s definitely a way to connect with whānau who can’t go home for a while.”

Marae can apply for the connectivity program through Te Puni Kōkiri until the end of June.

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest information service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers’ Association and NZ On Air.

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