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An elitist dream?

The Waikato-Tainui Endowed College for Research and Development stands on a hill above Hopuhopu. Some see it as the vision of Sir Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta. Others see a white elephant.

The Tainui leader who negotiated the $170 million Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Settlement to rebuild the tribes economy envisaged a blueprint for its development over 25 years.

Enshrined in the settlement deed were endowments for two colleges. The money would be invested to provide additional income for running costs, postgraduate study and education scholarships.

The $15m Waikato-Tainui Endowed College was the only one built, overlooking the former Hopuhopu army base near Ngaaruawahia which was part of the 1995 settlement redress package. The planned $4.5m investment for a post-graduate residential college in Auckland never got off the ground and the purchased site on the corner of Anzac Ave and Parliament Street remains vacant.

The colleges were Sir Robert’s retirement plan, to…

“just read and write and do a bit of teaching … (to) become the kaumātua of the movement.” 

The College at Hopuhopu was opened by Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu in February 2000. But a year later, Sir Robert died at age 61.

A plot near the college entrance became his final resting place and an eternal reminder to education being the tribe’s greatest cause.

His own education was varied and included a period in the coal mines with his uncles, a stint in the Army and working on the railways. His wife Raiha encouraged him to finish School Certificate and he then went on to study at Auckland University. 

While he was there he was asked by Te Atairangikaahu to head the fundraising for a new dining hall at Tuurangawaewae. Planning had been started by Te Puea, but fundraising had been going on for years with no visible result.

Sir Robert wanted to get a loan, build and pay it off. He asked the Tainui Maaori Trust Board, to take on the debt which managed a small $15,000 annual grant secured by Te Puea in the 1946 Tainui settlement. The board refused, but they got on with it and in 1975, Kimiora was opened.

Two years later Sir Robert was in the UK at Wolfson College in Oxford working towards his incomplete doctorate. There, he fell in love with the diversity of an international and postgraduate academic community representing the best minds of the time. 

But his time was cut short when he was called home by his kaumaatua to head opposition to the Electricity Department’s proposal to pull down Waahi Paa as part of the Huntly power station development.

Sir Robert’s solution was to get the department to lift the village above the flood level, pumping sand on the site and replacing the topsoil. That battle gave him an appreciation of the attitudes local authorities and the Government had towards Maaori, and was further impetus to resolve the confiscation of his people’s land.

Through it all, he held on to his vision for a similar model of Wolfson College in the Waikato.

Was it an elitist dream?