Hilda Halkyard-Harawira with Hone and mokopuna Kawehau. (Photo supplied)

You don’t do justice to Hilda Halyard-Harawira’s achievements if you see her just as Hone’s wife, a mum and nana, a long-time activist and now a Far North councillor — or as a kura kaupapa pioneer and a waka ama paddler and advocate. In fact, there’s no justice if you try to pigeon-hole her anywhere. As she moved on from Ōtara and Hillary College, to Auckland University and then ultimately to Kaitaia, she’s been responding to the inequities she’s seen and felt. And she’s espoused the causes, especially kura kaupapa, where there’s been a chance for Māori-led initiatives. Here she’s chatting with Dale about a number of the paths where she’s been travelling — and making a significant impact.


Kia ora, Hilda. It’s lovely to be talking with you. First, I wonder if you can tell us a bit about your mum and dad.

My dad, William Entwistle Halkyard is English from Oldham in Lancashire. At one time, we were the only Halkyard family in the country. When Hone and I got married, I thought I’d keep the double-barrel name, just in case our family name faded out.

And, through my mum, Frances, I’m Ngāti Haua ki Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Whātua and Te Moana Nui a Kiwa.   

You seemed pretty politicised as a young woman. How did that come to be? And am I right that you were born up north but raised in Ōtara?

I was born in Mangonui and spent most of my childhood in Ōtara.

Both Dad and Mum were hard workers. Dad was an avid unionist. When I started getting part-time jobs, he’d never allow me to stay longer after my shift. He’d say: “You are paid to work until 3pm, so finish at 3pm.” He was always on about union rights.

Dad worked away from home a lot as a welder, down in Manapouri, and Mum had two or three jobs at a time. In Bremworth’s carpet factory, cleaning at Forest Products with June Jackson, working in Chinese market gardens, and a myriad of other jobs.

She was typical of a lot of Māori, Pacific Island, and Pākehā women too, who worked their butts off to feed their children. Mum was frugal and knew how to travel across Auckland at odd hours to get bargains from factories or sacks of broken Weetbix, cheap meat-cuts, and so on.

She had eight of us kids at home while Dad was away working to get extra money for the whānau, and dropping in maybe three or four times a year.

My mother never tolerated anybody making her wait in line if she was there first. “Excuse me, I was here first and my money is as good as anyone else’s.” She didn’t tolerate anyone calling her children “little black bastards” or the n-word. We’d be so embarrassed because she’d be having an argument outside kitchen windows in our street: “Don’t you ever talk to my kids like that.” Then afterwards she’d give us a whack for causing trouble.

And the other thing is that we had good teachers — teachers who made us think.

You went to Hillary College in Ōtara, didn’t you? Who were some of those teachers who helped shape your attitude to life?

Ian Kahurangi Mitchell switched the “light” on for me when he asked: “What is love? Is it the same as aroha? How many forms of love are there?” He made us think rather than just regurgitate what we were told or read in cheap love stories.

Ian’s peers were Roimata Kirikiri, Warren Lynberg, Bernard Gadd, Tom Newnham and several others. They challenged the School C exams as racist because students were asked to write about experiences that we never ever had as Māori and Pasifika in Ōtara. “What did you do on your vacation?” Oh, what’s a vacation? A holiday. To us kids, having a break from school was the holiday.

Our Hillary teachers raised the issue about irrelevant topics in School C exams — and the essay content started to change. I got by with 51 percent for English. After I left school, students were asked to write about a number of experiences which had never been considered before, such as a fono, a hui or a tangi.

We were the first kura to have a Polynesian cultural group, and our teachers also started the Polynesian Festival among three or four schools. We weren’t learning just Māori culture. We were together as a Polynesian group. All of us as kids who didn’t really know much about ourselves were learning each other’s culture and our own identity.

Back in those days, there was a stigma about Ōtara. It was the time of the “white flight,” when Pākehā were trying to leave the area because there were too many poor Māori or Pasifika.

As teenagers, some of us became aware of the Black Panther movement in America. I was won over by the “Black is beautiful” concept, when Angela Davis with an afro hairdo was runner-up in the Miss America pageant.

On TV, all we saw were Pākehā, blonde-haired women with blue eyes and 36-24-36 figures. You never saw us on the TV or heard us on the radio. If there was a Māori on radio or TV, they had a plummy, British accent.

So it was a big deal to have Hana and Syd Jackson coming in to talk to us as seniors and saying: “It’s okay to be Māori.” They asked for our help with the reo petition.

Was Saana Murray around in those times?

Aunty Saana lived down the end of our street in Hamill Road. She had a huge influence in teaching tikanga Māori, promoting and understanding Māori concepts, and weaving. And she wrote lots of letters about Ngāti Kuri. Hillary College was pretty innovative.

Our principal was Garfield Johnson. At the time, I didn’t realise that he came from the Far North. He’d played rugby up here and was part of a group of Pākehā who were with Māori teachers like George Marsden trying to get more Māori kids into education, more Māori teachers, and having more Māori topics.

Our teachers were highly influential with our students — and they encouraged us to see that it was normal to be young, bright Māori and Pacific Island children growing up in Ōtara. And to see that Ōtara was good, and that it was a rich place to be living and learning.

People used to say we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor because everybody was the same. There’s been a wide range of people who’ve come out of Hillary College and gone on to great things.

One of my peers, Rhonda Kite, formed the famous reo cartoon series with Kiwa Digital. My brother set up Te Hiku Hauora with a nil budget. Zena Tamanui and Whakahou did a whole lot of great community stuff in Ōtara and with the Manukau Council.

Many of the teachers made a positive difference in the lives of kids. That’s why I became a teacher, firstly in Hillary College and later up here in Te Rangi Aniwaniwa.

People regard you as an activist. Are you comfortable with that terminology?

I’m not fussed. Sometimes, people try to paint it in a negative way and I think: “Oh, get over yourselves.” It doesn’t bother me.

You were on the Land March and in the Springbok Tour protests. There was plenty going on in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Looking back now, what sort of action has meant the most to you?

I wasn’t the only person from Hillary who played a part in the protests. We had lots of little support groups and strategy wānanga throughout Tāmaki back then. We were incensed by injustice to Māori and Pasifika. We started up action groups and, once that action was finished, we usually morphed into something else — and there’d be another action. All of us are still active, in some way, in our communities.

In 1985, we left Auckland because it was like we were on a treadmill. Hone felt the need to return to Te Kao, and then we settled in Awanui. Although we were energised to fight injustice, we also had young families and jobs. I started to see that, on some occasions, we were being asked to commit protest action for those who didn’t want to do it themselves for fear of tarnishing their own image.

Sir Graham Latimer used to say to the men: “Come on, you guys. It’s time to protest again. I get a lot of things done when you fullas are playing up.” So he’d take the middle road and go to the government and demand things because he seemed like the reasonable voice. And we thought: “Oh well, that’s a good role to play sometimes.”

But we didn’t do it to play a role. We did stuff because we believed in it.

As you get older, you tend to choose your battles. But, back then, we probably jumped in on everything. Then, as we all got kids and mortgages, our responsibilities toned us down a bit — and that’s life.

You and Hone have been a wonderful couple for a long time now. How did you guys end up together?

We met in our first year at Auckland University. We’ve had ups and downs as couples do but, over time, we saw the importance of working together for our kids as well as supporting each other in our personal endeavours.

We have seven children, 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren — and we’re still raising tamariki in our old age. They keep us young and on track. Hopefully, we do a better job with our mokopuna than we did with our own kids.

Almost all the issues where we’ve been active, we’ve done that voluntarily, because we believe in them. If you do things with the right wairua, they come out right. Of course, things are always much easier if you’ve got resources. But, if you don’t have resources then you make your own. That’s pretty much my philosophy.

And, when you fight for something, sometimes you have to walk away from the wins, because the win isn’t yours — it belongs to everybody. There’s a difference between ownership and kaitiakitanga.

I recall when you guys moved back to Kaitaia, and you were setting up a kura kaupapa. There must’ve been some challenges there.

Our biggest challenge was that we had no money. But you carry on because reo Māori education is worthy, it’s productive, and it’s a better pathway for our tamariki.  We also helped several kura kaupapa over the years until they gained full status.

We’ve now got 66 kura kaupapa nationally. In the early days, many Māori didn’t believe in kura kaupapa Māori and their kids remained in mainstream schools. Some people felt: “I’ll put my kids in a reo class for two years. After that, they can return to mainstream to be fully rounded.”

It was good that we had whānau who believed not only in te reo but also in the tikanga and the lifestyle. A raukura stands out over other students. Over the last 30 years, we’ve had more than 2,000 graduates of te reo Māori from our kura alone in Muriwhenua. There are three kura kaupapa in Kaitaia, and a fourth starting soon.

We had to design a new framework because the Pākehā system didn’t suit us. We’ve had to create alternative sometimes and stick to the plan. Te Aho Matua, our guiding mantra, weaves our tikanga and reo tuku iho together in a modern education setting.

Mostly, Te Aho Matua teaches us to be kind to our tauira (students) and to each other. Kura kaupapa has been a successful education model since the early 1990s.

This week, kura kaupapa Māori as well as kōhanga reo, kura a iwi, and wānanga Māori have an urgent hearing with the Waitangi Tribunal to assert our mana motuhake — our ability to run our own model of kaupapa Māori education. We’re over being asked to be a tag-on to the one-size-fits-all model, or the new experimental approaches which ask us to mark time for other schools to catch up.

Succession is the big issue now, because the original trailmakers are all in their mid-60s or more. Stepping down as a burnt-out tumuaki about six years ago was a good move for me and I support the younger leadership of Te Aho Matua graduates in our kura.

Both you and Hone were incensed by the foreshore and seabed legislation, and the hikoi you organised was unprecedented in the number of our people who were mobilised. Then, off the back of that, came an opportunity for Hone to try and work from the inside of politics. What did you say to Hone about becoming an MP?

I was against Hone standing for parliament at first, but I was swayed after the Hikoi Takutai in 2004. The Māori Party got in in 2005. Hone remained an activist, but he came to realise that, although your voice can influence, you can’t change everything just by being inside the system.

Hone was proud of how he voted in parliament — proud to have his name recorded for all the things that he believed in. That’s a massive legacy.

When Hone fell out with the Māori Party in 2011 over the new Marine and Coastal Area Bill (which replaced the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004) he was torn. He felt there were too many official advisors who tinkered with the wording. He also became unhappy about compromising his own political beliefs. And he voted against the bill. But he still has great respect for Tariana, Pita, Te Ururoa and kaimahi from the Māori Party.

We also enjoyed the achievements of the Mana Movement from 2011 to 2014. I recall Whatarangi Winiata saying quietly at one hui in Ngāti Kahungunu: “There’s room for more than one independent Māori party in parliament.” He said it only once, but I heard it, and he was right, as long as you make an agreement not to compete with each other for the Māori seats.

With kura kaupapa, we wanted to create space for us to be Māori inside the education world. There’s plenty of space that we can occupy. We can agree on certain things, and we can do other things a little differently, but it doesn’t mean we’ve got to cancel each other out. That’s what I saw happening with the Mana Movement and Māori.

Sometimes Hone gets asked to go back to parliament, and he’s like: “Ah, no.” We’re focused these days on local projects that have a timespan where you can see the outcome. We quite like that. It’s manageable, as opposed to being on call for all kinds of mad stances and abuse as an MP 24 hours a day. Plus, I like having my husband come home every night from work instead of just seeing him on weekends.

I take my hat off to the awhi you’ve given to communities over the years, Hilda. It’s been wonderful to see the rise of waka ama in the north, and all the initiatives that you’ve been pushing while you’ve been there. What have been the most important initiatives for you?

Kura kaupapa. That’s because I was so happy in there, helping create a positive Māori educational environment, and having reasonably high academic results. There’s nothing better than being employed in the job you love. The next step is for whānau to support our kids as school leavers.

Like other retirees, many of them still have energy to give and share, and they’re not weighed down by employment roles and responsibilities. And, if they still want to give back to the community, that can keep them busy and happy.

Hone hasn’t retired, and I’m kind of meant to be retired. Now, I just like connecting dots. Sometimes it’s just about getting people to talk to each other. Sometimes it’s about getting past the barriers of mamae, personalities and egos.

Women are good at getting past egos and being resolution-oriented. When a positive outcome doesn’t happen, perhaps the world isn’t ready for it — but someone else may take it further at another time.

You had a hand too in that National Action Plan Against Racism, didn’t you?

Yes. I’m happy to have been part of the Human Rights Commission working group that wrote the Maranga Mai report. The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) directed our government to complete a national action plan against racism, because New Zealand wasn’t meeting the basic criteria of human rights.

Already, people are inquiring under the Official Information Act about how we came to the conclusions in Maranga Mai. Hopefully, it won’t sit on the shelf and be ignored like Te Puao o Te Atatu for 40 years.

You’re also well known for waka ama. I suspect that it’s an environment where you can replenish yourself personally. I’ve seen the effect that the moana can have on people of all walks of life and ages. And waka ama is an example of us reconnecting with a mahi or taonga of yesteryear.

Like a lot of Māori initiatives, it hasn’t received the level of support and funding that it deserves. But you’re very committed to it. What are you drawing from the moana, when you’re out on a waka?

Waka ama is an important part of my hauora. It keeps me well. I’ve always been a sporty kind of person. Now, post my 2020 quadruple bypass, I’ve got to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Since I’ve been on the council, I’m doing a dangerous amount of sitting at my computer.

Waka ama makes me happy and I keep training. Rather than sitting in an armchair turning grey, I can be out on the lake or the moana. That’s fun. I plan all kinds of things when I’m out on the water.

Our teams are in their mid-60s and always need two reserves because we’re all dealing with injuries, hip ops, knee ops, sore shoulders, tangi leave, and all kinds of stuff. We’re not as gung ho and injury-free as we used to be. Also, we have to work around mokopuna timetables.

I watch the current Ngā Hoe Horo teenagers who’ve been training since they were six to reach the point where they are now — as champions at the world sprint championships in London 2022 and national champs this year. It’s awesome to have some input into their development, even if it’s marking schoolwork, posting their magnificence on Facebook or just giving a travel koha.

The sport connects us to our Pacific history. Kupe’s karakia has been converted into haka and mōteatea — and when you’re paddling on the water, the 1200-year-old words make sense today. You can just picture our ancestors arriving in the Hokianga, or to other parts of Aotearoa. It doesn’t matter that it’s a fibreglass waka, because it’s got that same sort of wairua on the moana.

What prompted you to stand for the Far North District Council? And what are you hoping to achieve as a councillor?

Well, three nights out before the closing of date for candidates, Te Karere announced that we had three candidates for four Māori ward seats. Overnight, I put my name forward, alongside 14 other nominees.

Anyhow, now that I’m in, I’ve found it a bit different because I’ve come from a kura kaupapa Māori space where, when you say you’re gonna do something, you do it. It just gets done. I’m still learning the local government ropes — but wanting change and making change are two separate things.

I feel aroha for our people in the north and I feel the rage directed at people who work in local government where there’ve been bylaws that seized huge tracts of land. And that mamae and distrust are still there today and subject to Waitangi Tribunal claims.

Up here, us Māori are over 50 percent of the population, and with the new census, we could probably be more. Generally, Māori haven’t been treated well in the process of council bylaws. We’ve been made to feel we’re a minority, inconsequential and responsible for our own demise.

There are some good things happening in the council but there’s still a whole lot of inequity. I want us as ratepayers to stop the dumping of sewage into the moana. We’ve got 15 outlets in the Far North, and our people have been complaining for over 30 years, but the question keeps coming back to who’s gonna pay for it. I come from the kura kaupapa space, where the budget is used to create the desired action.

So, I’d like to put out a tono. If there are any millionaires out there with, say, $200 million tax dividends to unload, could they koha that to our moana restoration project in the Far North District Council? Part one of the moana restoration project, would be to pay for land-based solutions to stop dumping sewage into our harbours. I tautoko mārika the council saying: “He oranga taiao, he taiao oranga.”

What are your hopes for the future, for our people?

Our young people are wonderful. They’re still testing themselves in awkward situations, but they’re gonna come through. There are plenty of diversions like drugs, pōharatanga (poverty) and lack of housing which knocks us sideways in our whānau.

I support local trade training in various sectors. I’m a fan of steering our youth into trade positions rather than them being seduced into gang recruits or a lazy-day couch scabbing off the elderly.

I support raukura graduates to learn many roles — across all sectors but especially maths, science, hitori, resource consenting and town planning, and whānau care. They are the skills we need to foster.

I trust our young people and the skills they have. If they’ve been brought up in good tikanga, they’re gonna be a huge asset to our community.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

© E-Tangata, 2023

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