Before he was appointed Rodney District Council’s iwi liaison officer in March, Geremy Hema had already attended more than 100 hui. His understanding of Maori issues, fluent Te Reo and strong ties to the Catholic Church and community meant his services were also in demand for ceremonies including powhiri and tangi. Raised in Orewa, the 25-year-old says he hopes to live here until his dying day. He spoke to Terry Moore about family, Maori issues and being a “coastie” …
The White Heron Dairy in Hillary Square brought my family to Orewa in 1986. The dairy no longer exists, but my parents ran it successfully for six years and we are all still living in the area. My brother and I were taught to speak Maori by our paternal grandmother, who came to live with us in her later years. She was a diabetic and not allowed sweet things, so she would ask my brother and I to get her contraband food like lemonade and chocolate in Maori so my mother couldn’t understand. My grandmother was a lovely gracious woman, but pretty sneaky when she wanted to be. My dad is Maori-French and mum’s Irish. My dad is Catholic and it was important to him that I have Catholic schooling. Mum, despite being Irish, is Presbyterian. I went to Stanmore Bay Primary, then Orewa College and Hato Petera Catholic Maori College on the North Shore. This is a boarding school, and although I wasn’t keen to go there it turned out to be marvellous. It was there I met my mentor Reverend Father Henare Tate. He was chaplin at the college, Episcopal vicar of the Maori Catholic Church and my grandmother’s cousin. I drove him around, attending hundreds of hui and taking notes for him, gaining the bulk of my Maori knowledge in the process. I considered entering the priesthood after college, but tertiary study and employment intervened. I am still a lay leader in the church and attend mass regularly. The Hibiscus Coast parish only has about six Maori families in it, and my father’s third cousin, Pita Tipene, is the Maori priest.
I identify with Te Rarawa, Ngati Paoa and Tainui iwi. My grandmother was from the Hokianga and I spent a lot of time up there when I was growing up, so my whanau are ‘harbour people’. I also have a strong affinity with the Kaipara – both the harbour itself and its people. I am also interested in the Kaipara from a scientific perspective. I am currently working towards a Masters of Science in Environmental Management part time at Auckland University. Environmental management takes in technical concepts of issues such as water resources but my particular interest is in biodiversity conservation and integrated management. The Kaipara is a case in point – it has huge sedimentation problems and needs integrated management to maintain its water quality. Integrated management draws in a range of stakeholders, including iwi, farmers, aquaculturists, resource users such as sand dredgers and fishers, local and central Government. It brings people together to find a way forward.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work as Rodney District Council’s iwi liaison officer is conducting powhiri. The manawhenua of this district graciously allow people from other iwi to share in ceremonies here. This may involve blessing and opening civic buildings, schools and libraries but there is acceptance in our culture that anything can be blessed if it serves the public or is involved in the preservation of life or protection of people. Basically these ceremonies are about making places and objects safe and thanking the creator and ancestors for their blessings. I have had all kinds of requests over the years, the most bizarre being the request to bless a house that was thought to be haunted by an ornamental goat’s head that the people believed to be tapu. My first question in cases like that is ‘do you take drugs or alcohol?’ I get a lot of personal requests to bless new homes or businesses and I am happy to do that. I also was called to officiate at an ‘emergency’ karakia whakatuwhera for the Northern Gateway Tunnels. They rang me the day before to assist Dr Takutai Wikiriwhi in the blessing so that the tunnels could be used for a charity dinner, and I was back again when the tunnels were officially opened. I also performed the karakia whakawatea ceremony for Manly Fire Station’s new fire truck last month. I see that as analogous to launching a waka so I used an old waka blessing karakia. I remember seeing a photo of the Pope blessing a whole fleet of fire trucks in Rome, so it’s funny given that it was acceptable to the Catholic tradition too.
Having grown up in Rodney, and particularly in Orewa and Whangaparaoa, I feel part of this place and am proud of my district. I like to think of it as separate from the city. We grew up calling ourselves “coasties” and most of my peers came back here to live after going away to study, travel or work. I really don’t think from what I am hearing around the community that a supercity is what the majority wants. As Maori, I take my direction from the community view – that’s the Maori way. My feeling is that manawhenua (iwi from this region) should be represented in the supercity. It’s important that Maori representatives should be from manawhenua so it is not race-based, but a Treaty right. Maori should be represented on a day-to-day basis so they can have input on issues that affect them.
The hikoi for Maori representation in the supercity on May 25 had my total support. I also went on the Foreshore and Seabed hikoi in 2005 when I was a university student. The main concern on that issue is preservation of aquaculture and continued respect for the way manawhenua see the sea. Tangaroa (the maori tupuna of the sea) is an ancestor, so although the sea is a wonderful resource, it also needs to be venerated. That aspect was absent from discussions on the foreshore and seabed in the past. A bay I know well up north, Whangapaatiki is a fine example of protection by Maori. The bay is enjoyed and used by a lot of people, but in a respectful way and there are many local situations where co-management like this exists.
Despite the fact that Rodney is not seen as a Maori stronghold, my role at Council is exceptionally busy. An average day may involve translating documents, advising staff, site visits, ceremonies and so on. Council has a Memorandum of Understanding with Ngati Whatua, Te Uri o Hau and Ngati Manuhiri, and regular dialogue with Te Kawerau a Maki, and the Ngati Paoa Trust Board. We have regular consultations with them, including recently regarding Council’s Long Term Council Community Plan. Issues for Maori that came up include rating on Maori land, coastal policy, speed zones around marae and the potential use of marae in Civil Defence emergencies. I am also involved in fortnightly meetings with iwi liaison officers from other Councils to consider legislation for the supercity as it is being formed, Maori’s interest in the transitional authority, and where the Treaty sits in the establishment of a supercity. What I will do if Council is no longer here remains to be seen but I would like to continue working with local or central Government in an iwi liaison role, especially in the areas of fisheries, conservation or the environment.