SERCO officer refuses to remove shoes in wharenui

By Tema Hemi

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has spoken out about SERCO and the need for them to review their policies on Māori protocols.

Last week at the funeral of legendary Māori guitarist Tama Renata, a correction officer refused to take their shoes off upon entering the ancestral meeting house at Hoani Waititi Marae. 

The issue has stemmed from what has been an emotional week for the Renata family. 

They had applied to have Tama Renata's son, Justin released from prison to attend his father's tangihanga.  He was accompanied by SERCO officers who refused to remove their shoes in the wharenui at the marae. 

Earlier today I spoke to Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis who had a stern warning to SERCO officers.

Minister Davis says, "I am well aware that the officer in question has belittled the protocols of the marae, I do not want to see this priviledge for inmates to mourn their loved ones cut off to them and I think that SERCO are worried about security issues and want to keep their workers safe so I think discussions around this need to happen between SERCO, families, marae and elders so that there is an understanding."

Tikanga facilitator at Hoani Waititi Marae, Shane White says he asked the officer three times to remove his shoes, to no avail.  He found their actions disrespectful and rude.

He says SERCO officers need to adhere to maori protocols.

"My opinion is that maybe they should consider sending a Māori officer to escort prisoners onto marae, officers that have the knowledge and have experience within Māori protocols.  Perhaps it might have been different if a Māori officer had escorted the inmate to the funeral."

In a written statement SERCO said:

 "It is general practice to advise kaumatua beforehand that our staff will not remove their shoes but we acknowledge that this may upset some individuals.

"Respect of tikanga is embedded within our kaupapa, supported by Mana Whenua. We welcome kaumatua from the marae to korero directly with us on this matter."