One-time Raglan Māori warden back in town to fill ‘big shoes’

Nancy Koha knows she has “big shoes to fill” as the newly elected chairperson of Raglan Māori Wardens Charitable Trust.

The 57 year old was voted in recently at an emergency meeting soon after the sudden death of longtime chairman John Bishop, a familiar face around town over the past two decades who has been lauded as an “unsung hero” of the Raglan community.

While Nancy has long been a Māori warden – even working alongside John back in the early 2000s when last living in Raglan – she says her new role as trust chair is a whole new ballgame.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” the mother of seven, grandmother of 18 and now first-time great-grandmother told the Chronicle. “You’ve got to (really) organise things,” she says, pointing as an example to the role Māori wardens will play at the ‘Music and Dance Festival’ at Te Kopua Domain in 10 days.

Māori wardens take on traffic management at events like these, Nancy explains, which means all volunteers’ licences for the job need to be checked and updated if necessary. 

But there’s a raft of other responsibilities in the community too, she adds, such as advocating for clients with Winz and the Tenancy Tribunal, and working in with the police by doing night patrols downtown.

“We help keep our community safe and do what’s best as it’s growing,” Nancy sums up. It means liaising not only with local police – as their eyes and ears – but also with kuia, kaumatua and businesses through the Raglan Chamber of Commerce. 

“And I want this new phase of the Māori wardens to be an open book,” she adds. “Nothing hidden, so we maintain trust within our community.”

qardneNancy worked as a warden in Huntly way back, and then in Raglan before moving more than a decade ago with her husband Rini to work in Otara with the Turehou Māori Wardens. It’s where Rini is still based as team leader, she says. “But I need to be here now to give back to this community.”

Working in Auckland however was a valuable experience, she says, particularly as “we trained alongside the police in Manukau”.  It was a big step up but not without its highlights, she adds, including crowd control at Warriors matches and at 2011 Rugby World Cup games.

Nancy makes clear she takes her new role as a Raglan Māori warden very seriously and is keen to carry on where John left off. She says John contacted her a couple of months ago when he wasn’t well, specifically to get her back here to work. “He had a plan,” she believes.

Despite not currently having an office to work out of – because the renewal of the lease of their Bow Street premises was overlooked at the time – Nancy and her colleagues are happy to work from their cars for now.

Raglan’s Māori wardens are a team of volunteers working for the good of the community, Nancy stresses. She may be chairperson but “there’s no hierarchy … we’re all doing the same mahi together”.

Edith Symes