Kaumātua are supporting a call from Māori staff at Unitec to remove the chair of the joint Unitec and Manukau Institute of Technology Board and one remaining member of its rūnanga (council).
The news comes after several Māori staff handed in their resignations last month at Unitec, over what they claimed was institutionalised racism.
The Unitec Māori staff collective - Te Rōpū Mataara - say the environment of Unitec had made them feel culturally unsafe and that there had been failure of compliance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi from leadership.
Te Tira Kāpuia, a group of prominent Māori kaumātua with connections to Unitec and influenced major advancements in Māori education are backing the resistance.
Te Tira Kāpuia chairman Rangi McLean says the Minister of Education was notified last month of the "grave concerns for the wellbeing of Māori at Unitec", but no sufficient action has yet been taken to secure the safety of staff.
"This is a major issue for Māori in tertiary education," McLean said.
"The voices and concerns of Māori have been stifled at governance and management levels.
"Now, five of the six rūnanga representatives have resigned as a result of the disrespect shown towards mana Māori."
In a statement, Unitec said "we should have engaged better to honour Te Noho Kotahitanga, seeking input, listening more to staff, students, Te Roopū Mataara and Te Rūnanga o te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka before deciding on the right path.
"While we consulted with those who were directly affected by the restructure and their direct reports as well as other stakeholders, we didn't engage in the way our people at Unitec expected.
"We have apologised unreservedly for the hurt caused and have committed to resolving the issues raised.
"Since making this apology 10 days ago, we have consistently reached out to Te Roopū Mataara and requested to meet and talk through the issues. So far, we have been unable to secure such a meeting, but we would like one to happen as soon as possible.
"Te Pūkenga, as well as the MIT/Unitec board and management have suggested a range of solutions, embodied in a pledge made to our staff, students and the community.
"Our board chair and CEO met with the Te Tira Kāpuia chair, as recently as Friday, and reinforced our willingness to meet and talk through the issues and possible remedies.
"Unitec reaffirms its commitment to upholding our Te Tiriti obligations and the values of Te Noho Kotahitanga. Our sincere commitment is that we will begin to rebuild relationships where they have been strained and rebuild trust where it has been lost. We will learn to improve for the benefit of our students, staff, Te Tiriti partners and the broader community."
Last month a rūnanga representative said Unitec's former leadership allowed Māori to thrive, with a model that prioritised working with and alongside Māori.
But that leadership changed in August 2020 which then set Pākehā at the top, and Māori working beneath them without their own governance.
A response letter has been sent to Te Tira Kāpuia and Te Rōpū Mataara, but both groups say it is not satisfactory.
"The inaction of those with the mana to support Māori staff in a crisis is condoning their continued mistreatment."
Te Tira Kāpuia have called on Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Tu Pūkenga again to enact six resolutions passed by Te Rōpū Mataara.
This includes a vote of no confidence in a senior board member and one other governance member; the establishment of mana ōrite at governance and management level; and the immediate halt of the appointment of a Tumu and establishment of a new rūnanga until this is done.
Te Rōpū Mataara say they will continue to fight for mana ōrite and uphold the mana of Te Noho Kotahitanga and the legacy of Tā John Te Ahikaiata Turei (Sir John Turei).
Sir John was a Tūhoe rangatira and one of the most respected figures in te ao Māori for his lifelong involvement with the community and the Waitangi Tribunal.
His daughter, Tui Ah Loo, had worked at Unitec for 21 years but resigned following the disrespect shown towards Māori.
She took with her the framed portrait of her father which had lived at the tertiary education.