There's a photograph – the first photograph – of the blessing of this piece of land where the polytech now stands. In that photo there's the kauamātua, Uncle Wāra Katene, Patariki Te Rei, Māui Pomare, and Matua-a-iwi Solomon and Auntie Charlotte Solomon. The photo is in the dark, in the early morning. To me, the blessing of the land is significant. It was the first link between the two.
– Turoa Royal
Whitireia has a long relationship with Ngāti Toa Rangatira that reaches back to the very beginning of the institution. In the early years of the polytechnic, at a celebration of Māori Language Week in 1988, Turoa Royal reaffirmed this bond, describing the attendance of Ngāti Toa elders at the event as an example of the aroha between the polytechnic and the people of Takapūwāhia Marae. He and Māori studies co-ordinator Rangi Nicholson acknowledged that the iwi had played a major part in the polytechnic from the start, providing the institution with its name and with rangatira Wāra Katene lifting the tapu on the site so the first building stage could begin.
Since then, Ngāti Toa had always been there when the polytechnic needed support, said Turoa Royal, and in turn "Whenever anything happens at Takapūwāhia, people from the polytechnic go across and help." Polytechnic council member Taukiri Thomason spoke to this connection too, mentioning that each of the three local marae had their own representative on the council.
The two entities, Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Whitireia, have maintained an evolving relationship since that early morning blessing in 1985. Each June 19, a commemoration of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi is hosted by either party and as the dawning light effulgent breaks over the horizon, the maunga, and the polytechnic, the minds of the participants are illuminated by the guest speakers.
Ngāti Toa Rangatira are central to the introduction of manuhiri to Whitireia, officiating at pōwhiri for new students and welcoming new staff at Takapūwāhia Marae. Founding chief executive Turoa Royal reflected on this in 1996, noting that on his appointment he was "brought to Takapūwāhia Marae – not to the City Council, not to the block of land that the polytechnic would be built on, but to the marae. So the first welcome to me on site was done on the marae."
Just as the land on which Whitireia was built was provided for explicitly educational purposes, so Ngāti Toa Rangatira have often been instrumental in facilitating the development of new programmes, with a particular focus on ones that impact the local community. In 2008, Ngāti Toa Rangatira were strong advocates for the development of the Bachelor of Nursing Māori, motivated by a desire to provide the best and most effective health care for their people and to see Māori students graduating and succeeding in the industry. The degree was officially announced by chief executive Don Campbell when Te Whare o Wikitoria Tehuruhuru Katene Whatu was blessed by Ngāti Toa, with the building being named in honour of a widely respected Ngāti Toa nurse, affectionately known as Aunty Wiki.