Poroporoaki: Dr Ihakara (Kara) Porutu Puketapu

Māori Development

Ko Puanga tērā kua ara ake ki te uru – e kānapa mai ana ki te tihi o te maunga tītohea – e ka tanuku nei! E ka tanuku nei! Ahaha!

E kapo nei ki te whetū, ki te marama, ki te ata i te rironga a tōku raukura a te taniwha hikuroa nei a Ihakara Puketapu.

E huri ana te tirohanga ki ngā tai whakarunga, ki Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. Ki ō takahanga ki Wainuiōmata, ki Whenuangaro, ki Waiwhetū tonu, arā ki te pūtake o tō whare o Arohanui ki te Tangata ki tō iwi o Te Āti Awa – e tangi nei mōu, e tangi nei tātau katoa.

Haere, haere e te rangatira. E kore koe me āu mahi nunui hei oranga mō te iwi Māori e warewaretia. Moe mai rā, okioki ai.

It is with deep sorrow that I received the news of the passing of Dr Ihakara (Kara) Porutu Puketapu yesterday. Dr Puketapu was an esteemed public servant for three decades, making significant contributions in various government departments such as Internal Affairs, Māori Affairs, Child Welfare, Social Security Department, State Services Commission, and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

During his remarkable career in public service, Dr Puketapu served as the Secretary of Māori Affairs and Māori Trustee for six years, from 1977 to 1983. His appointment as the second Māori in this influential position reflects the pivotal role he played during the Māori Renaissance of that era.

As the Secretary of Māori Affairs, Dr Puketapu introduced the philosophy of Tu Tangata (Stand Tall), which emphasised community-based Māori development. The overarching goal was to foster cultural and economic advancement by promoting self-reliance and self-determination at the community level. Dr Puketapu sowed the seeds of a whānau-centred approach, recognising the value of whānau and encouraging their active participation in identifying and implementing solutions to existing challenges while proposing new developmental initiatives.

Renowned for his visionary leadership, Dr Puketapu charted a new course for the Department of Māori Affairs by empowering Māori development in response to the unique struggles faced by Māori in urban environments. In his seminal book, "Reform from Within" (1982), he outlined his philosophy and also authored other significant works such as "The Community Service: Department of Māori Affairs," "Māori Tourism," and "Tu Tangata: A Management Perspective," in addition to his contributions to poetry.

Under Dr Puketapu's guidance, several Kōkiri units were established in the Wellington region. These units collaborated with local communities to devise programs that supported cultural and economic aspirations, challenging the conventional top-down approach of government departments.

Dr Puketapu was instrumental in convening regular meetings with Wellington iwi representatives and tribal leaders to discuss policies and other matters, fostering open dialogue and collaboration. Moreover, his leadership gathered over 120 Māori leaders at the Tū Tangata Wananga Whakatauira held in the parliamentary chambers in July 1981. This significant gathering addressed vital issues such as revitalising te reo Māori, education, employment, health, and reducing Māori incarceration rates.

During one of these meetings in 1979, a pivotal decision was made that laid the foundation for the survival of the Māori language learning from birth. This decision led to the establishment of Te Kōhanga Reo, a vital early childhood language immersion programme.

As the Secretary of Māori Affairs, Dr Puketapu played a crucial role in the successful realisation of the Te Māori exhibition through the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. He chaired the management committee of Te Māori, the groundbreaking international exhibition showcasing Māori objects as art. Following its triumphant run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Saint Louis Art Museum, and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, Te Māori toured Aotearoa to resounding success.

As a respected community leader, Dr Puketapu served as the chair of Te Rūnanganui o Te Āti Awa ki te Upoko o Te Ika a Māui. He instilled the Tamaiti Whāngai iwi-based philosophy, which emphasised fostering strong whānau through a comprehensive community approach, with the wellbeing of whānau at its core. During his tenure, he supported the establishment of the first Kōhanga Reo at Waiwhetu Marae and played a vital role in establishing the Te Āti Awa health service and Āti Awa Toa FM radio station. He consistently served as a guiding voice for his people, both on and off the pae.

Dr Puketapu's lineage is one of distinction. Born to prominent leader Īhāia Porutu Puketapu and Vera May Yeates, his father, Īhāia, was trained by the revered prophet Te Whiti-o-Rongomai at Parihaka. He played a pivotal role in negotiating land and housing for Te Āti Awa, which is now Waiwhetu Grove in Lower Hutt. The house, Arohanui ki te Tangata, has become a central gathering place for the Rūnanganui, hosting hui, tangi, and receiving government and international visitors. Inside the house, two carvings represent the prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kākahi.

In his youth, Dr Puketapu excelled in sports and played rugby for Petone, eventually representing Wellington as a Māori All Black. Later on, he coached the Wainuiomata Rugby League team, leading them to three national titles in the 1990s and representing New Zealand in two World Sevens Tournaments in Australia.

In 1967-68, Dr Puketapu was awarded the prestigious Harkness Fellowship of the Commonwealth Fund, which granted him the opportunity to attend the Graduate School at the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Chicago. There, he completed his master's studies in urban ecology.

In recognition of his lifelong dedication to Māori development, Dr Puketapu received numerous accolades. In 2002, Victoria University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws for his outstanding contributions to creating opportunities for Māori. In 2015, Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori honoured him during the 40th anniversary of the te reo Māori initiative at Waiwhetu Marae, celebrating his profound impact on the revitalisation of the Māori language.

Te Waka Toi (Māori Arts Council) bestowed upon Dr Puketapu the Te Māori Award in 2019, recognising his leadership in the development of the Te Māori Exhibition. In 2021, he was bestowed with the Te Huihuinga o Matariki - Lifetime Achievement Award, which celebrated his passion, innovation, and unwavering commitment to making a difference in our communities and our nation. This award acknowledged his remarkable contributions, including the Hui Taumata, the kohanga reo movement, the Tu Tangata program, the establishment of Kōkiri centres, reforms within the Māori Land Court, and his work on the ground-breaking Te Māori exhibition in the 1980s.

Dr Kara Puketapu will forever be remembered as a rangatira, both on the international and national stage, but particularly within the Te Āti Awa community. With over five decades dedicated to Māori economic and community development, he left an indelible mark as a public servant, Māori leader, and rūnanga leader. His immense achievements within the public service endure and will continue to influence te ao Māori for many years to come.

I extend my deepest gratitude for his exceptional service, profound insights, outstanding leadership, and his unwavering dedication to guiding us through uncharted territories.

Kara will be laid to rest at his Taumairangi homestead, in Wainuiomata. Our thoughts and prayers are with the whānau Pani and the iwi of Te Āti Awa at this time.