The principal of Otumoetai Primary School is to make a formal public apology to representatives of Ngai Tamarawaho for the enforced removal of 42 of their tamariki from the school 80 years ago.
The apology is being made during a formal pohiri and assembly at the school today.
The removal of the children happened in the late 1930s, after the Otumoetai school committee of the time successfully asked the Department of Education to make the school European-only.
Consequently, on November 20 1939, 42 Ngai Tamarawaho children ranging in age from six to 13 years were enrolled at Bethlehem Native School instead.
This left just 35 European children on the Otumoetai Primary School roll, says current Deputy Principal Marcus Hughes.
“A petition from Pakeha parents was sent to the Otumoetai School Committee in April 1938 asking that all Maori children from Otumoetai Primary School be moved to Bethlehem Native School,” he says.
According to records, the Otumoetai School Committee discussed the possibility of making the school European only.
The committee members instructed their secretary to write to the Department of Education putting forward this proposal.
“No parents from the Huria or Te Reti communities were members of the school committee, so decisions regarding their children were made entirely by the Pakeha parents and the Department of Education,” Marcus says.
In October 1939, the school committee was advised by the Department of Education that they had gained permission to remove all Maori children from Otumoetai Primary.
Today's public apology is being made as part of the schools 125 year anniversary.
“Obviously, the removal of hapu children from Otumoetai School in 1939 is widely remembered within the hapu. Two kuia who attended Otumoetai Primary School in the late 1930s are attending today’s powhiri and apology,” Marcus says.
“It is clear to us that if we are to learn anything from the wrongdoings of the past, the first step forward is to apologise.
“To teach our people well, we need not be afraid to expose the truth of our history and to also show that it is never too late to say sorry.
“To move forward and start the healing process we are formally apologising to the hapu.”
The apology forms part of the school’s 125th birthday celebration, which will include sporting events, the opening of a stage, and the unveiling of a mural by local artist Stu McDonald.