Eviction painful but our right - marae

GROUP RULING: Members of Omaka Marae have defended their committee’s decision to ask a couple to vacate their home on the marae.
GROUP RULING: Members of Omaka Marae have defended their committee’s decision to ask a couple to vacate their home on the marae.

Members of Omaka Marae in Blenheim are disappointed that a tenancy dispute involving a kaumatua flat was played out in public.

They said the issue had divided communities and fractured families, but defended a decision to order Doug and Ina Cunniffe to vacate their home of 16 years.

Marae manager Kiley Nepia and committee member Peter Meihana said the committee decision to terminate the Cunniffes' tenancy had been an "exhaustive process" and they had "bent over backwards" to bring about a resolution.

They said they regretted not defending themselves in the media earlier and were disappointed the issue was played out in public.

They also said their decision to evict the Cunniffes had the unanimous support of the committee.

The Cunniffes had lived on the marae for 16 years and considered it their retirement home.

Ina Cunniffe, 74, had been considered by the committee as a kaumatua - an elder who teaches and guides future generations.

In March the Cunniffes were issued with a 90-day notice to vacate their home. Emotions came to a head last Thursday when 17 supporters of the Cunniffes, including founding members of the marae, protested against the tenancy termination.

Nepia said the issue should have been played out in private or through a tenancy tribunal.

"Our primary issue is with Doug and it is not because he is Pakeha," Nepia said.

"His attitude constantly undermines the type of environment we are trying to foster here at the marae."

Nepia said the 81-year-old had been verbally abusive, undermined the values, principles and cultural practices on the marae and undermined management.

The marae is run as an incorporated society. Cunniffe was not a member of the marae but a tenant, Nepia said.

"He turned up at the AGM when he was not a member of the society," Nepia said. "[He was] coming up to the marae and demanding information about the marae that as a tenant he has no right to ask for."

The Marlborough Express understands the way the committee and marae was run angered Cunniffe and his supporters. He had applied to be a member of the committee but had been declined. Nepia would not comment why.

"The reason we didn't speak out was we wanted to protect Doug and his family. This is a tenancy issue, we are not in the wrong. We don't have to justify why we made the decision [to evict]. As a landlord we are within our rights."

Their initial public silence on the subject was their biggest regret, Meihana said.

"We could have said something earlier. The issue has fractured families and people within our wider whanau."

The Cunniffes intend to find a new home but Nepia would not be drawn on whether there would be a stay on the tenancy termination or bailiffs would be brought in to remove the couple.

"We will continue to follow the tenancy tribunal pathway," he said.

The Marlborough Express