Tō mātou Tāhuhu Kōrero | Our history

Our history

The centre is named in honour of the late Sir James Henare, Tai Tokerau kaumātua and Ngāti Hine leader.

Read more about Sir James

Sir James Henare was an instrumental supporter of Ngāti Whātua at the time of their Treaty Claim in the 1980s concerning their lands at Ōrākei. Ngāti Whātua kaumātua were keen to recognise this support and his general leadership in Iwi affairs. They approached Lady Henare and his whanau if they would support his name being bestowed on the new research centre at the University. And so the centre name honours his leadership and the relationship between Ngāti Whātua and his people, Ngāti Hine.

From September 1991, hui were held in Tai Tokerau and Auckland to discuss the research needs of the tribal groups in this region. A proposal was put to Tai Tokerau representatives that The University of Auckland – with researchers and expertise across many faculties and disciplines - could assist. The key question was how.

Following these meetings, Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu and Dr Margaret Mutu from the University’s Māori Studies Department prepared a research framework concerning development issues, cultural and commercial asset analysis, social challenges and models relevant to Tai Tokerau people.

Further discussion took place with Sir Colin Maiden, the Vice-Chancellor, and Chancellor Sir Ian Barker. Sir Ian accepted the challenge articulated at one of the gatherings by Dame Mira Szászy: "What has Waikato [University] got that Auckland hasn’t?" The rhetorical answer was: a Māori research centre.

As a result of the many discussions, Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu was asked by Sir Colin Maiden to prepare a proposal. Twelve months later, in December 1992, the University Council approved the first university-based Māori research centre to be established.

The James Henare Māori Research Centre

The Centre is housed at 18 Wynyard Street, next to the Department of Māori Studies and Waipapa marae. It was refurbished and enhanced, culturally, spiritually and artistically, by the addition of a front porch with an entranceway carved under the direction of Ngāti Porou master carver, Pakariki Harrison. He was then artist-in-residence at the University where he oversaw the construction of Tāne-nui-a-Rangi, the wharenui, on the University marae. The koruru represents Tāne as Kupu, or bearer of the words of knowledge.


Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu was appointed the first director of the new Centre. The building was blessed and opened by Bishop Ben Te Haara in mid-1993 at a hui attended by over two hundred kaumatua and leaders from throughout Tai Tokerau.

Professor Dorothy Urlich Cloher was appointed Deputy Director and subsequently became Director following the retirement of Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu. She was succeeded by Dr Richard Benton from 1999-2003.

The former life of the centre

The building was originally one of several built to provide accommodation for married army officers during the land wars of the 1860s.

About 60 years later it was purchased by Malcolm Draffin, a prominent architect who designed the Auckland Museum. Mr Draffin expanded the building, adding to both the front and rear sections. It was purchased by Sir Ernest Davis for the University in the 1960s, and further modified to become the Vivien Leigh Theatre. In this role it contributed to the flourishing of the performing arts in Auckland.

The Centre opened in 1992. It became a key Tai Tokerau and Māori presence advancing Māori interests within the University and community at large.

In 2003, the Centre was placed in recess and was reactivated in 2008. It now reports to the office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori).