Susan and Graeme Stevenson live in a three-storey heritage building with a full basement on Hamilton's main street and operate an educational institute started by Susan. Here is part two of the story of the Stevensons and the Public Trust Building, by Wintec journalism student ANNALESE WEBBER.

Freedom educational institute welcomes students from all over the world to learn leadership and management skills in a holistic, values-based setting with a focus on personal development.

Too often, Susan says, students are made to "feel like they have to park their culture and their ethnicity at the door", and Freedom tries to create an environment where they are accepting of the whole student and their personal circumstances.

Years ago, Susan encountered Mason Durie's Whare Tapa Whā model of wellbeing. This four-sided home illustrated four essential dimensions of wellbeing.

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In the 90s, a fifth side was proposed: whenua, relating to land, culture, and ethnicity.

The Ministry of Education of the day turned it down, feeling that the concept was too closely associated with controversial Treaty claims and land battles.

Susan incorporated the Whare Tapa Rima model into her own work anyway, using it to inform her support of underprivileged students. A research project was undertaken to look at what helped them succeed.

"Of course, we knew it was the holistic approach," says Susan, and since then the project has had a life of its own.

Meanwhile, in the background of both restoring the building and establishing a school, Susan had also been trying to get in touch with local iwi, after learning of the history of the site.

"We just felt we had to start interacting with those people. It wasn't really something you could ignore."

After two years calling and writing to various people of Tainui and Ngāti Wairere, she finally got a phone call from Hinemutu Reid of Ngāti Wairere agreeing to meet them at the Ministry of Education buildings in Te Rapa.

Susan and Graeme arrived and introduced themselves to three people who were waiting for them in the boardroom.

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"They said 'Look, our Nan wants that plaque down. That plaque is offensive, we want you to know that.'"

The plaque in question read "Kirikiriroa Pa, occupied by the Maoris prior to 1864, lay between Victoria St and the river in this vicinity".

As it turned out, the plaque was in the back of their car, having already been removed the day prior in order to paint the building. Susan and Graeme brought it inside to show the whānau, and from that point the relationship blossomed.

Hekeiterangi Broadhurst sits on Freedom's Māori Advisory Board, guiding the institute on cultural content. Photo/ Supplied
Hekeiterangi Broadhurst sits on Freedom's Māori Advisory Board, guiding the institute on cultural content. Photo/ Supplied

Those same people, along with their Nan — Hekeiterangi Broadhurst — now sit on Freedom's Māori Advisory Board, guiding the institute on cultural content, teaching in some of their programmes, and opening their marae for students to visit.

Hekeiterangi is a direct descendant of the Ngāti Wairere people who had to flee Kirikiriroa.

She sees the marae itself as a place of higher learning. Carvings and decorations inside the ancestral house tell stories of the hapū's whakapapa, with kauwae-runga, the higher knowledge, on the ceiling and kauwae-raro, lower knowledge, on the walls.

"It's only on a marae that you'll find it. You won't get it at a university."

Susan agrees. She says many universities and workplaces are trying to support their staff or students with mental health these days, but there are challenges.

"It's easy to help a student with their studies; it's not so easy to help people with everything that's going on in their lives ... we've often pretended that we're helping them, but we're actually only helping bits of them."

Mary Graham's photo on the foyer wall at Freedom Institute. She is the grandmother of Susan Stevenson. Photo / Supplied
Mary Graham's photo on the foyer wall at Freedom Institute. She is the grandmother of Susan Stevenson. Photo / Supplied

Freedom's depiction of the holistic Whare Tapa Rima model — using a photo of the wharenui at Hukanui Marae — takes this tikanga Māori of higher and lower knowledge into account. Labelling the base of the whare as 'whenua' acknowledges that embracing one's identity and culture is an important foundation for the other four aspects of wellbeing.

In late October, after having presented their research at educational institutes in Australia and America, and written a book chapter on the model, Freedom premiered the Whare Tapa Rima resource and accompanying film.

A celebration was held with groups of students presenting cultural performances from their own countries.

Hekeiterangi was "absolutely blown away" that all these people from different nationalities had come here and were embracing a style of higher knowledge like the one her ancestors had.

Kameta Te Puke's photo on an information panel about Kirikiriroa Pa and Hamilton's history; she is the grandmother of Hekeiterangi Broadhurst. Photo / Supplied
Kameta Te Puke's photo on an information panel about Kirikiriroa Pa and Hamilton's history; she is the grandmother of Hekeiterangi Broadhurst. Photo / Supplied

"It's a huge responsibility to have people from other countries and all of their dreams that come with them," says Susan. It's massive."

The model "makes it possible to deal with the complexity" of having such a mixture of cultures in one shared learning space.

A new plaque has been unveiled near the entrance to the Public Trust building, giving some information on the architect and the features of the structure.

As the only Greek temple and Georgian-inspired building in the area, the plaque states that "the building is symbolic of the democratic ideals and aspirations of ancient times along with the promise of a great future".

Susan feels that "even though that statement was written a really long time ago, it just seems really appropriate" to this day.

The space on the other side, where the old plaque was, is still empty.

"I remember when we took down the plaque, every second person I met on the street was like 'Why have they taken the plaque down?'

"There were a lot of people who cared about the building and the site. The building had memories and people had associations with it."

Whether another plaque acknowledging what happened at Kirikiriroa Pā goes up, that's the choice of down to Ngāti Wairere. While their main concern was to have the old, offensive inadequate one removed, Susan says she and Graeme are more than happy for them to put something up, if they want to.

And just as Ngāti Wairere welcome Freedom's students to their marae with open arms, Susan and Graeme open their building for them to use when they wish, for meetings and other purposes.

Hekeiterangi uses the space to teach traditional waiata karanga every Saturday, because it's "handy to her whānau and nieces who are living in Kirikiriroa".

Moving forward, both women want to see more of that side of Hamilton's history properly acknowledged.

Hekeiterangi's nephew has an archaeologist friend at Auckland University who he hopes to arrange to do an archaeological survey of the pā where his ancestors lived.

And Susan's thoughts turn to Memorial Park, an important site for those who lost family in the world wars and wonders why something similar can't be established to remember the New Zealand Wars.

"Or something much more appropriate than a bylane for people to duck through," she says, referring to Bryce Lane, which runs directly beside the Public Trust building into a carpark behind.

Hamilton City Council have in recent years installed several interpretation panels telling some of the history at the Kirikiriroa Reserve near the river, as well as a large pou depicting Chief Hoera.

The pou of Chief Hoera, installed by Hamilton City Council at Kirikiriroa Reserve at the river end of London Street. Photo / Supplied
The pou of Chief Hoera, installed by Hamilton City Council at Kirikiriroa Reserve at the river end of London Street. Photo / Supplied

"I think the council initiative is great, because I can immediately tell from the people we talk to, people are so interested in the history."

And this is the most important thing for Hekeiterangi, one of the ahi kā, who keeps the metaphorical fire of Kirikiriroa burning.

In her own words: "First things first, you gotta know the history of the land, what's here."