Marae nationwide are in the grips of a leadership crisis.
As Māori elders die there is a drought of Māori who can whaikōrero (make a formal speech) rising up to fill the gaps.
Leaders are putting this down to their whanau moving away for jobs and a disconnection with the culture and language.
Māori speakers were the backbone of marae, Te Tuinga Whanau Social Services director Tommy Wilson said. There were only two speakers left on Wilson's marae, Tutereinga in Te Puna.
"Our speakers are running out on our marae.
"Unfortunately we have this time frame and the clock is ticking where our elder people are getting older and passing away and there is no replacement. There is no one coming off the bench to sub on to the paepae (speaking platform).
"Without a speaker and without a paepae you actually don't have a marae."
More effort needed to be put into normalising te reo and putting resources into the country's 1063 marae, Wilson said.
Every marae was worried about this issue, Te Puea marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis said.
In a 2009 report by Maori public policy agency Te Puni Kōkiri, around 30 per cent of marae reported they did not have sufficient numbers of speakers.
Running the marae - which acts as an events venue, social service, full catering service and community hall - is as challenging as running a big business. Around 30 people volunteer significant amounts of their time to keep Te Puea marae ticking over.
Between holding down a job, and fulfilling commitments to family and friend, some youth struggled to spend the time on the marae needed to learn. But it was on the marae, their "university of learning", that youth could see their elders in action, Dennis said.
"The marae always needs to be the starting place from a Māori perspective ... They need to be in a position they can participate and communicate and take up opportunities when they are given and learn from them at the marae.
"Leadership is about being able to encourage others to follow. That's a lot of trust and confidence.
"[The marae] is nothing without the people."
Pensioner Len Neho took up the job of maintenance at Ngai Tupoto Marae in the Hokianga aged 71 after the last caretaker passed away. Now 74, he's worried about who will pick up the job next.
"We're pretty short. Our old people are going into the next life and there's nobody coming up behind. But we seem to manage. Touch wood."
Kaumatua Huikakahu Kawe has run the programme Tangi Te Titi Tangi Te Kaka to mentor men on Māori protocol for seven years. Currently 15 men turn up from a group of 22 marae around Tauranga aged anywhere between 20 and 70. It's a start, but it's not enough.
The issue was in part because many Māori have lost their relationship with their marae, their culture and language, Kawe said.
"There's a gap, nobody is moving forward. Everyone is staying at the back because they don't feel equipped to carry out that important duty on the front.
"This is very, very challenging. This is something that's nationwide.
"You can't learn it [culture and tikanga] out of a school book."
Young leader Maxine Graham, 34, who was elected to the board of trustees last year, advised other young Māori to get involved with their marae - but to also know their time and place. Her advice was to choose an area in the marae that suits your skill and interest, whether that be a speaking role, governance or the day-to-day running.
"Don't be flash in the pan. One thing is consistency. I attended [committee] meetings for six months before I said anything in a meeting.
"Go pick up a tea towel, go clean the garden. Do those mahi. Know your time and your skill. "
Former Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell's goal was for a million people to speak te reo by 2040.
Te Ture mō te reo Māori Act was passed last year with the aim of addressing the revitalisation of te reo Māori. Budget 2017 secured $10 million for Marae Ora.
Flavell said the initiative aimed to strengthen whānau connection to their language, culture and history by supporting marae.
"Many marae, including urban marae, need more kaikaranga or kaikōrero as well as support to complete repairs and maintenance to meet health and safety standards. This fund will assist marae to identify their needs and address them."
The fund will be available to marae via grants for things such as physical work like renovations or cultural work like the mentoring of rangatahi [youth] and development in whaikōrero and karanga.
Te Puni Kōkiri is aiming to have information available in January about funding applications and how they will work.