Witi Ihimaera takes top Te Waka Toi Award

Witi Ihimaera.
Te Waka Toi Awards. Back left to right: Witi Ihimaera, Challen Wilson, Shannon Te Ao, Kylie Tiuka, Merata Mita, Wiremu Karuwha Tawhai (Bill). Front: Te Wharehuia Milroy, Mary Mereiwa Broughton (Mere), Kukupa Tirikatene, Whero Bailey, Te Uruhina McGarvey.
Witi Ihimaera has been honoured with the premiere Maori arts award Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi


Witi Ihimaera has received the premiere Maori arts award Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi at the Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Awards, held in Wellington on Saturday August 29.

The Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Awards are the only national Maori arts awards that celebrate all artforms, with seven awards and three scholarships awarded.

Pioneer Maori film maker Merata Mita was among those honoured with Te Tohu Toi Ke, the making a difference award, alongside esteemed Te Reo expert Te Wharehuia Milroy.

The premiere award acknowledges the work of individuals who are exemplary in their chosen field of artistic endeavour.

Witi Ihimaera, who will receive his award at a separate ceremony at his home marae, Rongopai, early next year said “To be given Maoridom's highest cultural award, well, it's recognition of the iwi. Without them, I would have nothing to write about and there would be no Ihimaera. So this award is for all those ancestors who have made us all the people we are. It is also for the generations to come, to show them that even when you aren't looking, destiny has a job for you to do."

Newly appointed Te Waka Toi Chair, Darrin Haimona said the awards are an opportunity to celebrate the success of those making a difference both internationally, nationally and locally within their communities.

“These awards recognise and honour the individuals who demonstrate an ongoing commitment and contribution to the retention and development of Maori arts and culture. It is wonderful for Te Waka Toi to be able to celebrate the international success of Witi Ihimaera and Merata Mita and the seminal work of Te Wharehuia Milroy alongside the equally vital contribution of the other Maori leaders who through the generosity of their knowledge and skill enrich the artistic traditions of their communities.

"These are all outstanding individuals who have affected others with their passion and have inspired a greater understanding of the Maori experience through the arts.”

Witi Ihimaera joins a luminary list of past recipients of Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi including Sir Howard Morrison, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and the late renowned master carver Pakariki Harrison and esteemed weaver Diggeress Te Kanawa. The  passing of these well respected leaders was marked at the award ceremony by a display of Diggeress’s work and images of Pakariki’s carvings.

The award recipients are nominated and selected by the Te Waka Toi Board.

The five Ta Kingi Ihaka award recipients in recognition of a lifetime contribution to the development and retention of Maori arts and culture are:

Te Uruhina McGarvey (Tuhoe)

Mary Mereiwa Broughton (Mere)

Wiremu Karuwha Tawhai (Bill) (Te Whanau a Apanui, Te Whakatohea, Ngati Awa)

Whero Bailey

Kukupa Tirikatene (Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Waitaha and Ngati Pahauwera o Te Ropu Tuhonohono o Kahungungu)

Te Tohu Aroha mo Ngoi Kumeroa Pewhairangi for contribution to te reo Maori is awarded to:

• Te Wharehuia Milroy (Tuhoe)
Te Tohu Toi Ke recognises an individual who is making a significant positive difference to the development and retention of Maori arts and culture through their chosen art form. This award was presented to:

• Merata Mita (Ngati Pikiao and Ngaiterangi) for her outstanding contribution to Maori film and documentary making.

The 2009 recipients of Nga Karahipi a Te Waka Toi/Te Waka Toi Scholarships are:

Shannon Te Ao (Ngati Tuwharetoa)

Challen Wilson (Ngati Kuia, Ngati Koata, Ngaitahu, Ngati Marutuaahu, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa)

Kylie Tiuka (Tuhoe)



Witi Ihimaera (Te Whanau A Kai, Te Aitanga A Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Tamanuhiri, Ngati Porou, Tuhoe, Whakatohea) When Witi Ihimaera wrote Pounamu, Pounamu, a collection of short stories in 1972, it signalled the beginning of a new era in New Zealand literature and the dawn of contemporary Maori writing. He was the first Maori writer to have a collection of short stories published and the first Maori writer to have a novel published, Tangi, in 1973. Since then, he has written 12 novels, 6 collections of short stories, 3 operas, 2 plays, 3 picture books for children, and edited over 30 non-fiction works including 9 anthologies of contemporary Maori literature. In recognition of this substantial contribution to New Zealand literature he was made a Distinguished Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004.
Ihimaera likes to call his career "a magnificent accident." Born in Gisborne in 1944 he was a very bad high school student and took nine years to get his Bachelor of Arts. He was a cadet journalist at the Gisborne Herald, and worked for the Post Office before being discovered in 1973 by Prime Minister Norman Kirk who suggested that he consider diplomacy as a career; he served at various diplomatic posts in Canberra, New York, and Washington, D.C until 1989. But his literary career has always been his main strength and he continues to bring his and other Maori voices to national and global audiences. His novel Whalerider (1987) was adapted to an internationally acclaimed feature film, and he has six other works including Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies optioned for future feature film production. His influence on the New Zealand's cultural landscape continues to be significant: he was the inaugural chairman of what became Te Waka Toi and has recently been a Board member of Learning Media, an SOE exporting education and literacy materials internationally. His most current appointments have included a stint as Citizens' Chair, University of Hawaii and he has just been appointed to the board of the New Zealand Film Commission. He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Auckland.


Merata Mita (Ngati Pikiao and Ngaiterangi) has been at the forefront of bringing Maori imagery to the screen in New Zealand and internationally for over 25 years. Born and reared in Maketu, she is an accomplished filmmaker, lecturer and essayist.  Mita was the first New Zealand woman to write and direct a dramatic feature film, MAURI, (1988), after a lengthy career as a documentary filmmaker.

Highly sought after for her expertise and knowledge, Mita has hosted workshops and been featured on panels ranging from the Sundance Film Festival's "From Oral Tradition to the Screen:   Indigenous Screenwriting"; to "A Conversation with Merata Mita" at the Messagesticks Festival held at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. She was a panelist at the Raising Voices Conference, hosted by the Hubert Bals Fund Conference in Rotterdam, exploring training programs that will stimulate the next generation of culturally distinctive and authentic film making voices.

Mita is an Assistant Professor at the Academy of Creative Media, UH Manoa, where she teaches courses in indigenous screenwriting, aesthetics and production. She is proud to represent the Academy for Creative Media (ACM) on a number of boards and labs that she participates in at an international level.

She currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the National Geographic's All Roads Film Project, which supports indigenous and minority culture filmmakers from around the globe. She is a patron of the ImageNative Film Festival in Canada; and serves on the Board of Advisors of the Sundance Institute's Native Program. In 2003 and 2004, Mita was the artistic director/ creative advisor, to the Sundance/Moonstone screenwriters labs, held in New Zealand. Most recently, Mita served as a Creative Advisor to the Australian Film Commission's inaugural screenwriters lab for Aboriginal Australian writer/ directors, The Long Black Writers Lab, 2005.   And since 2002 has served as artistic director of the Native American Filmmakers Workshop held during Sundance Film Festival.   In 2005 Mita organised the inaugural Native Hawaiian Film Festival, The Hawaiinuiakea Film Festival, in conjunction with the UH Department of Hawaiian Studies and the Department of Hawaiian Language.

In 2003 Mita was honored with a retrospective of her work at the First Peoples Festival in Montreal, Quebec.   The retrospective included such films as BASTION POINT: DAY 507 (1980); PATU! (1983); MAURI (1988); MANA WAKA (1990), DREAD (1996); HOTERE (2002) taken from the body of more than 30 films she has been involved with in her career. In 2005 the First Nations First Features Program, featured her film MAURI at the Museum Of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.


Te Wharehuia Milroy (Tuhoe) is a highly esteemed expert of Maori language and tikanga Maori.  He joined the University of Waikato’s Maori Department in 1978 and received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2005 as recognition of his contribution to the knowledge and development of te reo Maori and his work at the university. 

Te Wharehuia has been on the board of the Maori Language Commission, the Waikato Museum, an advisor for the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and since 1998 he has been a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. For his contributions to the community, Wharehuia was awarded the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) in 2003. The NZ Listener listed Wharehuia Milroy as one of the top five most influential people in their 2008 “Power List: Maoridom, The best, brightest and boldest in Maoridom”. The acknowledgement cites the critical role he played in the creation of the first monolingual Maori dictionary He Pataka Kupu – te kai a te rangatira launched in 2008 by Te Taura Whiri. He is now one of the principal tutors of Te Panekiretanga o te Reo at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, an invitation - only course aimed at developing expert speakers of te reo Maori.


Te Uruhina McGarvey (Tuhoe)

Te Uruhina McGarvey, a kuia of infinite generosity, with the natural ability to foster relationships that endears her to people, a pillar of comfort for so many souls whatever the background. In her youth, she was noticed by her two iwi, Te Arawa and Tuhoe, and then groomed with the tools that would empower her in the future. She has fulfilled that trust and is the rock which ensures that the tikanga of her iwi are not compromised.

She is unafraid to voice an opinion, and in fact her view is well sought after and highly regarded. For many years, she has been the strength of her hapu, ensuring unity, she is the leader, firm, yet compassionate, the facilitator with the veracity to restore dignity. Ever the gracious hostess, she is uncompromising about the obligation of her hapu  to fulfill hospitality. Always brimming with aroha, she is not without a wicked sense of humor as many have witnessed  - or fallen victim to. She lives the whakatauki, ‘the garden that is constantly enriched to ensure a bounteous harvest’ and guarantee her ability to host people.

Mary Mereiwa Broughton (Mere) (Aotea, Kurahaupo, Tainui, Matatua, Te Arawa, Takitimu, Nga tokimata Whaorua, Tokomaru, Paepae ki Rarotanga)

Mere Broughton was born in Hastings in 1938 and grew up in Kawerau. She worked as a nurse at Whakatane Hospital for four years before leaving to raise her family. Her early experience of the health system has seen her continue her work as a passionate advocate and practitioner of Maori health initiatives in medical and psychiatric areas in the Wellington region. Her voluntary community work in the Hutt Valley was recognised formally by the Hutt City Council in 1999 with a presentation of a Civic Honour Award. In 2001 Mere was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for Community Service. Mere is an experienced orator, teacher, tutor and renowned for her expertise in the oral arts, in particular the karanga.

Wiremu Karuwha Tawhai (Bill) (Te Whanau a Apanui, Te Whakatohea, Ngati Awa)

Born in 1933, Bill Tawhai completed his Diploma in Teaching at Auckland Training College in 1957. This was the beginning of a long career in education that has included positions in the United States and the UK, 16 years as the principal of Te Whanau-a-Apanui Area School and for the past 11 years teaching at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi. Bill is currently completing a MA thesis on the lunar month, Te Maramataka Maori and is a member of the advisory groups to the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science.  To many, Bill Tawahi will be most recognisable from his roles on television including the popular Maori Television “agony uncle” series, Whatukura. A well known proponent of marae arts and a former board member of Te Waka Toi, Bill is awarded Te Tohu Ta Kingi Ihaka in recognition to of the contribution he has made to the retention and promotion of Maori arts.

Whero Bailey (Taranaki)

Whero Bailey trained to be school teacher at Waikato Teachers College and spent the majority of her teaching career at New Plymouth Girls High School. During this time she was instrumental in organising many cultural programmes with other schools including New Plymouth Boys High School, Waitara High School, Spotswood College, and Inglewood High School. After her retirement in 1996, Whero continued to actively be involved in all levels of teaching and assisting at local primary and intermediate schools, early childcare, kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and kuratini. Her skills as a teacher and proponent of tikanga and te reo  Maori are demonstrated by the many workshops Whero has run pertaining to te reo Maori, tribal dialects, me nga rerekenga nui kei roto i to tatou taha Maori and her profile in her Taranaki community. She has been teaching nga Waiata tawhito, Nga Moteatea me nga Parihaka Puapua (traditional poi) to many for over thirty years and in 2000 Whero was awarded the Queen’s Service Order for Community Service.Today that mahi still continues.
Whero has spent many years studying and recording the effects the land developements and drainages by farmers at the base of Coastal Taranaki Maunga wetlands is having on the natural resources and wildlife habitats. An accomplished weaver she was involved in the implementation of Ng? Mahi o Te Whare Pora as an NZQA accredited programme. As an innovative artist Whero’s interest in fibre arts extends to her own study, gathering details pertaining to the strains, fibre quality, lengths, widths, types of plants and their suitability for various uses. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including The Eternal Thread exhibition which toured the West Coast of America in 2005-06.

Kukupa Tirikatene (Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Waitaha and Ngati Pahauwera o Te Ropu Tuhonohono o Kahungungu)
Born at Ratana Pa, Whanganui, Kukupa Tirikatene is the eighth of twelve children born to Sir Eruera and Lady Ruti Matekino Tirikatene. He is Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Waitaha and Ngati Pahauwera o Te Ropu Tuhonohono o Kahungungu. Kukupa graduated from Christchurch Teachers College in 1975 and the following year took up a position teaching te reo Maori (his first language) at Rosehill College in Papakura. Then in 1993 he moved to Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) to continue passing on his language and tikanga.

In accepting the role of Iwi Kaumatua at Te Papa, Kukupa had to be released from his position as the Kaumatua of MIT, where ‘Papa Ku’ has become an icon on the multicultural campus. Kukupa believes that 'our people have always been universal and global thinkers, and from my nanny I learnt that the marae weaves together a tapestry of understanding for all people.'
Nga Karahipi

Shannon Te Ao (Ngati Tuwharetoa)

Shannon Te Ao is an exciting emerging visual artist who is currently completing the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) degree at the University of Auckland, Elam School of Fine Arts. Having grown up in Australia and living in the UK Shannon returning to aotearoa has meant reconnecting with his whakapapa and tikanga Maori. His work is presently concerned with what it is to be Maori in contemporary Aoteroa/ New Zealand. Recently described as one of “Four top new photographers” in the Weekend Herald Canvas magazine, his innovative and challenging work make him an emerging artist to watch.

Challen Wilson (Ngati Kuia, Ngati Koata, Ngaitahu, Ngati Marutuaahu, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa)

Challen Wilson is a talented student of film and theatre. Earlier this year she completed her Bachelor of Arts at Massey University and she is currently doing post graduate studies at Victoria University. Challen’s passion is story-telling and her aspirations for the future include creating theatre that is tourable to marae and to write all her stories in Te Reo Maori. Described by Dr Paul Wolffram from the Film Programme at Victoria University as having the “proven potential to make things happen and create new and compelling artistic works”, Challen is focussed on producing works that reflect indigenous perspectives.

Kylie Tiuka (Tuhoe)

After completing a diploma in computer graphic design at The National College of Design and Technology, Wellington in 2001, Kylie Tiuka joined up with the then newly established Toimairangi Faculty of Maori Visual Arts in Hastings in 2002. She studied for three years at Toimairangi under the tutorship of Sandy Adsett, Paerau Corneal, Chris Bryant and Henare Tahuri graduating with a Bachelor of Maori Arts in 2005. After living in Wellington and working at Iwi Art Gallery and Toi Maori Aotearoa, Kylie is now completing a Masters of Visual Arts at Te Putahi a Toi at Massey University. Her prefered medium is acrylic paint on canvas, with her work focused largely on building a connection between herself and her tupuna. Head of School of Maori Studies at Massey University Dr Robert Janke describes Kylie as a “mature and innovative thinker in the realm of painting” and he believes “will be recognised as a contributor to indigenous painting in the future”.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

30 Aug 2009

The Big Idea Editor

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