Sir Harawira (Wira) Tiri Gardiner
4 Hepetema 1943 – 17 Maehe 2022
Published: Monday, 28 March 2022 | Rāhina, 28 Poutūterangi, 2022
“Ko te pō ki a koe. Moe mārire mai e hika.”
To mark the passing of the founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, we have put together this celebration of his life. In includes a summary of his many achievements, and some tributes from a range of people who knew him.
Tā Wira has had several careers including working in the army, in the public service and as a writer.
Most recently, he served as the interim chief executive of Oranga Tamariki, a role he stepped down from last year.
While Lieutenant Colonel in the army he took up leadership and establishment roles in the public service, was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, the first general manager of the Iwi Transition Agency and the founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri.
Wira led the Crown’s consultation with the Treaty settlement proposals for the Bolger Government, the foreshore and seabed legislation for the Clark Government and the asset sales proposals for the Key Government.
In 2008 Wira was knighted for his services to Māori and was appointed Chair of the Board of Te Papa Tongarewa in 2010.
He was active in the commercial affairs of Ngāti Awa and served the council of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
Sir Wira served in the Vietnam war and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, the highest-ranking Māori officer at the time.
He gained degrees from Canterbury University and Kings College at the University of London and wrote extensively on a range of subjects such as kapa haka, the Māori Battalion, and a biography on the life of former Minister of Māori Affairs, Parekura Horomia.
Building Māori-Crown relationships was his specialty - especially in Treaty of Waitangi settlements, fisheries, broadcasting, local and regional government, and tertiary education.
Sir Wira was also a ‘trouble shooter’. Prior to his illness he was appointed as the head of the embattled children's agency, Oranga Tamariki. He also led a controversial review of Waikato University's Māori faculty following claims by Māori academics of racism.
In her statement, his widow Hekia Parata described Sir Wira as a man who was ‘dedicated to the nation of Aotearoa-New Zealand and faithful to the Māori people’.
The 78-year-old was of Ngāti Awa, Te Whakatōhea, Te Whānau-a-Apanui and Ngāti Pikiao descent.
He is survived by his wife, former minister Hekia Parata, and his children, Jeremy, Amy, Ainsley, James, Rakaitemania, Shannon, Mihimaraea, and grandchildren Tōroa, May, Ārai, Freddie, Mary, Paeumu, Amohaere, and Kingston. He is also survived by his former wife Pauline Gardiner.
Tā Wira died in his home in Te Tai Rāwhiti after battling a lengthy illness.
He kupu aroha nā ngā rangatira o te motu
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson expressed their deep sadness following the death.
"Tā Wira leaves behind a legacy that cannot be measured," the Prime Minister said.
"A tireless advocate for his people, he has been a trusted and respected adviser to all shades of government for decades.
"Throughout his many roles it has always been clear that he has been there to improve the lives of others, and he did. His legacy has helped shape Aotearoa."
“Sir Wira used to tell a story about his high school teacher who told him at the age of 15 he should leave school and go work on the railway because that was the limit of his capacity.
“This man’s capacity for service had no limit. He gave to his country as a soldier, to his people as a leader, to the public as a servant and to Māori as a trailblazer.
Minister Jackson says, “Sir Wira has held numerous positions throughout many Governments from across the political spectrum. One of the most symbolic to me is as the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal and the first chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri.
“I would like to think that Te Puni Kōkiri was moulded in his image. Today it stands as a Ministry committed to serving our people as its founder, Sir Wira, would have wanted.
“Sir Wira was a storyteller. Over a cup of tea he would share tales from his time in the army or about the history of the Māori Battalion. He was also renowned for putting those stories on paper – with many of his books (being) staples in Māori households across Aotearoa.
“His love for literature comes as no surprise. He told me when he built his house in Ruatōria he built the library first - then all the rooms for humans.
“Although he is no longer with us, his stories and his books will inspire many generations of Māori for years to come.
“Today our thoughts are with Hekia, his tamariki and his wider whānau. We thank them for sharing Wira with us all.
“And so we carry on the conditions they have laid. And as we go on day by day. You will always hear us say……. Ake ake kia kaha e,” Willie Jackson said.
Sir Tipene O’Regan, retired assistant vice-chancellor Māori in Canterbury University and former chairperson of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board, called Tā Wira a "hugely important New Zealander".
"He had a desire for doing things. Other bureaucrats had a desire to work out how not to do things," he said.
"In a period when the world was changing quite dramatically... Wira was a rock standing in the middle of that storm, and he did it in great style and great humanity."
In Tā Wira's work reshaping the Māori affairs sector, Tā Tipene said he was a "particularly even-handed commander".
"Always a commander, but always a very fair person to deal with. I had a very high level of respect for him."
Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis says he was honoured to work with the late Sir Wira Gardiner.
Mr Davis was one of the few non-family members to attend Sir Wira’s tangihanga in Whakatāne over the weekend.
He says he got to know him after he was appointed acting chief executive of Oranga Tamariki with the sudden departure of chief executive Grainne Moss.
It was a final note in a career that had started with the New Zealand Army, including being the first chief executive of the Ministry for Māori Development, Te Puni Kōkiri, and went on to being someone whose skills were sought by governments of every shade.
“He was Mr Fix It. If there was a problem, Sir Wira was brought in to deal with it. So it was with Oranga Tamariki. I got to know the man close up and personal, and in the year that I worked with him, I came to love and admire that man. He was incredible and I can see why he was every Government’s Mr Fix It,” Mr Davis says.
He’s keen to read the essays Sir Wira was working on in his final months about facets of his career, and he will also get a portrait of him for his office, to hang alongside a photograph of northern leader Sir James Hēnare.
Hōne Sadler on behalf of Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi-o-Ngāpuhi
E kara e Tā Wira,
Me pēhea e taea te rāranga ake i te kupu kōrero hei takapau tākai i a koe ko riro tahae i ngā rā tata nei. Tē taea te rārangi ake i ngā hua maha ko whiwhia e tō whānau, ō hapu, ō iwi, tō iwi Māori, ngā hunga puta i te motu whānui, i te ao katoa, i hakapaungia e koe tō kaha me ngā werawera i maringi iho i tō rae, hei painga mō tātou katoa.
ēnei mātou ō whanaunga o Mataatua waka ngā uri a Puhi o Ngāpuhi, te tangi atu, te poroporoaki nei, te mōteatea nei, te hakamau i te pare kawakawa, te noho mokemoke i te raungaiti o te noho mō koutou te momo ira tangata ko rūpeke ki tua o maumahara.
Te wehenga ngātahi atu o tō koutou tira wairua he tohu tēnā ki te ao katoa, he manene noa iho te noho o te tangata ki runga ki a Papatūānuku. Otirā, kia takitahi te hoenga o te waka, kia kaua e tīkoki, kia māunu te teretere o tō koutou waka ki runga i te te awa tapu, ki tāpoko o te rangi.
Nāu anō rā te mau i te hakangungu rākau o Tū, kia aratakina atu i tō ope tauā, te puta ora i ngā niho kōpū koi o Hine-nui-te-pō. Nāu anō rā te pīkau i tō iwi kia pareparetia ngā aupiki me ngā auheke ngaru hukahuka whatingā tai, kia tau marino ki uta. He māngai tohutohu tōrangapū mō Nāhenara me te tautoko kaha i tō hoa i a Hēkia he Minita Karauna.
Haere mai, haere, kia aupikitia atu rā te toi huarewa i pikitia atu rā tō tupuna a Tāwhaki-nui-ā-Hema, hakamaua te aka matua, puta tara, puta tara i te wheiao ki te ao mārama. Kia pahure ake rā koe i te ao o ngā Māreikura o Rauroha, kia tae atu rā koe ki te ao o ngā Whatukura o Whitireia, kia kuhu atu rā koe mā te pūmotomoto o Tāwhirirangi, kia puta ake koe mā te koropīhanga o te whare ki te ao ka tomokia e koe, ki Mātangireia ki a Io nuku, ki a Io rangi, ki a Io matangerengere, ki a Io matua, ki a Io matua te kore.
Haere mai haere, kia takahia atu rā koe te ara tiketike. Ko te ara tēnei o Mahuru i eke atu rā ki runga ki a huarau, ki a Whātua Mangonui, tihāoa te kaukōpuni, pahure i reira ko te kāhui kura. Ko te kura ko riro ki tāpoko o te rangi, ko te kura ko riro ki te anu o te mātao, ko ngā kurakura o Hine-nui-i-te-pō.
E tomo rā koe ki roto ki tō koutou whare ki a Rangiaio, takoto mai rā ki roto o wharepapa, o huaki pōuri. Ko te whare tēnā i tītaria ō koutou tinana, i kāwhaki ai koutou ki te au kume, ki te au rona, ki te au hīrere. Hīrere ki te pōuriuri, hīrere ki pōtangotango, hīrere ki te mate.
Ehara koutou nō raro nei, erangi nō ngā kūrae o hau mātao, ka rapu puku te aroha i haere i te haumihi ata, i tau ai te rangimārie o ngā mahi aroha katoa. Haere i te ia, haere i te ōru e kume atu ana ki te ao o te mate.
E hoki atu rā ki tua o tāwauwau, ki te wāhi e kore nei koe e huri muri mai, erangi ko mātou ēnei ka anga atu.
Nā Haami Piripi, ONZM
E ōku rangatira whakarongo mai ki te karanga o Te Wao Nui, he reo e tangihia ana. Aue te mamae, te pōuri mō te kākahu taratara a aituā.
Kua hinga kē he tōtara rongonui ki te ao. Te whakaruruhau mō te kāhui takawaenga, anā ko te hunga whakawhiti kōrero whakamārama rā āno ki ngā kupu takina ki te kāwanatanga mai tēnā pito, i tēnā pito o te motu puta noa.
E te iwi, mā wai rā e whakapakari ai ngā hononga o ngā iwi ki ngā oati o Te Kawana, Te Kawenata hoki o Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Me ko wai rā anō te pou herenga whakaaro te pūkōrero a Te Pirimia, me he māngai anō mō tō tātou rangatiratanga.
E Wira! Kua kore a mate i Wikitōria. Kahore anō i tae tōna wero ki a koutou te hunga i puta i ‘te mura o te ahi’. I toa koe, he whiwhinga mō tō iwi nui.
Kei te piki ake te manu o tō Mana Māori Motuhake. Kua aute kē. Nāhau hoki ētahi o ana huruhuru i whakarite, mā wai rā te whakatūtukitanga.
Ka mutu, he tangata noa iho tātou, i a koe e wehe atu ana, ka kite tonu e ara mai ana hei teitei kura. Nā reira, haere i runga i te rangimārie, haere ki ō hoa ō mua, ki te tini me te mano, kei mamao tonu te kainga tūturu mo te tangata.
Nāhau i waihotia nei ki te ao he pā Māori kua whai pakiaka ki rō Whare pāremata. Waiho ki reira, hei waka eke noa. Kua riro mōu ko Te Arawairua kia tae atu koe, ki Te Rerenga Wairua, ā, ki a Hinenui-te-pō, ōna uma piri ai.
Haere, haere, haere oti atu rā.
Sir Harawira Gardiner has left behind him a legacy of immense value both to his iwi and to his country. Indeed, the “long as your arm” list of his successes across a wide spectrum of activities is proof of a demonstrated track record of delivery. We have heard and will continue to hear for decades about Wira’s unique contribution to the machinations of achieving change and social reform, without the necessity of conflict and war.
His practical understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi was unsurpassed in the cut and thrust of sovereign accountability processes. And his leadership in facilitating dialogue between seemingly disparate parties was legendary, so much so that many people have come to believe that it was a necessary element in achieving enduring dispute resolution. His will be hard shoes to fill because leaders like Sir Wira, follow in the wake of rangatira like Tā Apirana Ngata and Te Rangihīroa, each adding to the tapestry of NZ history.
They are the architects of our contemporary society. Paying tribute to leaders of this calibre is inspiring because it enables a glimpse of what can be achieved and where future potential lies. But when we begin to examine more closely these manifestations of his achievements, we find numerous examples and the introduction of new innovative templates of which he was a principal designer.
Part of the legacy is that individuals can continue to aspire to these lofty goals through understanding the life, times and work of people like Tā Wira.
That exercise would require far more scholastic endeavour well beyond this truncated and rather inadequate expression of grief. Suffice to say, that there are a few stand out attributes in my mind which I have come to personally appreciate about Wira over the years that I have known and worked alongside him.
The first of these is the attribute of personal integrity, without compromise. Perhaps his time as a commanding officer within the arena of war helped embed that value as a first principle.
Another signature hallmark of Tā Wira’s leadership was the notion and importance of loyalty and the price of disloyalty. These are critical elements in the skill kit of effective leaders and their successful initiatives. Sir Wira Gardiner had scores of them, a long legacy of pride for his successes and great advances for our people, “aha koa ko wai, aha koa no hea”.
Finally, Tā Wira, the disciplinarian, was always the epitome of dedication to the task at hand. His intense focus on outcomes could always be relied upon to distil a solution for just about anything. This has provided for generations of Māori technicians and public servants. It is a korowai of confidence and security for up-and-coming state employees who populate and occupy pivotal positions of influence in pursuits of Mana Motuhake for Iwi Māori.
I was first introduced to Tā Wira by Bishop Manuhuia Bennett many years ago. At that meeting the Bishop was asked to introduce Wira to the hui we were all attending. In his introduction, Bishop Manu asked the question of the audience around equity, fairness, and justice; in other words, he said, how can we change the face of a nation? And his reply, on behalf of the audience, was WIRA GARDINER. I have never forgotten this introduction, nor the hope that our kaumātua placed in Sir Wira as a leader.
He and his whānau have been living proof of the ideal that we all share, in that participation in this arena of work is a vital component of success and forms part of the future face of our tino rangatiratanga.
Nā reira, me mihi ka tika ki te kaupapa, ki te iwi, ki te whānau e tangi nei. Haere rā, e kara, e Wira, haere ki tawhitinui, ki tawhitiroa, ki tawhiti pāmamao. E kore tōu iwi Māori e wareware ki ngā toka nāu i whakatū hei oranga mo matou te hunga ora.
The University of Waikato acknowledges with great sadness the passing of Sir Harawira (Wira) Gardiner.
E te Mate kei whea tōu wero? E te Reinga kei whea tōu wikitōria? Pōkokōhua e mate ko te mate! Hiko te uira papā te whatitiri, he whetū ki raro rā rū ana te whenua. Haruru tapuwae, haruru tapuwae. Haruru kau ana te tau o taku ate, taku ate, hei! Ate hei! Ate hei hā hei!
Kua hinga te tōtara haemata o te wao tapu nui a Tāne. Kua ngū te kākā-tarahae. Tarahae te kākā, tarahae te kākā, tarahae! Kua hinga ko Tā Harawira (Wira) Gardiner. Wira o Kīngi Tūheitia Pōtatau Te Wherowhero VII, Wira o Tūmatauenega, Wīra o Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Wira o Ngāti Awa, Wira o Ngāti Pikiao, Wira o Te Whakatōhea, Wira o Te Kāwana, Wira o Te Motu, Wira o Te Ao, Wira o Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato e te Tākuta o Kairangi, e te Mātauranga, e te Wānanga e Tā Wira e moe, e moe, e moe ki runga o Maunga Wahakangā Ariki, Haere atu rā.
A deeply respected leader in his long public service career, he is well known for the numerous leadership roles he has held and his extensive and significant contribution to Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
At the University of Waikato, Tā Wira brought his considerable expertise and skill in mediation and building relationships to an independent review into claims of systemic and structural racism. This review, undertaken with Hon Hekia Parata, led to the establishment of a Taskforce to address issues raised, and a long-term programme of work with the University.
Chancellor Sir Anand Satyanand conferred a University of Waikato Honorary Doctorate on Tā Wira in November, recognising his lifetime of service and achievements. Sir Anand says the award honours Tā Wira’s resolute approach to resolving problems, and a willingness to do so that was called upon time and time again.
“A memorable moment in my time as Chancellor is undoubtedly the spirit attending the ceremony to award him an Honorary Doctorate. In my former role as Governor-General, I knighted Tā Wira more than a decade ago, bringing added significance as I conferred the University’s highest honour on him last year.”
Tā Wira has been variously honoured in public tributes as a statesman, a change agent, a man taller than the sky, and a totara tree in the forest of Māoridom he served. Those who have worked with him have noted his humour, his humility, his resolution and certainty of approach, and his love of people.
Even at the end of his life, Tā Wira put the public health considerations of people above himself, requesting no tangihanga in order to reduce demands on frontline workers delivering public health responses.
The University’s thoughts and condolences are with Wira’s wife Hekia, his children and mokopuna.
Children’s Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers extended her aroha to Sir Wira Gardiner’s whānau whānui.
“Aotearoa has lost a Rangatira, statesman, soldier, writer, storyteller, public servant and leader of our people, who in all his endeavours was dedicated to faithfully serving his communities and country”.
“Early last year he took over the reins at Oranga Tamariki and began the important mahi of transforming the work of that agency. As Children’s Commissioner I salute this work and his life-long commitment to improving the lives of our mokopuna and young people through his public service”.
“Sir Wira is now at peace. We mourn his passing with great sadness but know that his immense legacy will live on. A hero with the biggest smile," says Judge Eivers.
“E te Rangatira, e te whanaunga, moe mai rā, okioki mai rā. Hoki atu ki tōu maunga kia purea ai e koe ki ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea”.
Our Te Tumu Whakarae Dave Samuels, in noting his passing last week, said Tā Wira’s legacy is one of great service as a soldier and a public servant. He noted how, ever the organisor and pragmatist, during his illness Wira discussed with his whanau the difficulties of holding tangi during this pandemic, and his wish that public health be prioritised, the demands on frontline workers be recognised, resulting in no tangihanga for Tā Wira at the marae.
Sometime in the future the many people whose lives Tā Wira touched will be able to gather and to acknowledge his passing and recognise and celebrate the contribution he made to our country, one he had the utmost aroha for – Aotearoa, New Zealand.
We finish this celebration with some words from Minister Jackson.
It was a privilege to attend Tā Wira Gardiner’s tangihanga in Whakatāne on Saturday. 12 months ago today, he came to my 60th birthday uninvited.
He made that point to me when he turned up. I’m not sure why I didn’t invite him, because he has been a close friend and whanaunga to our family for many years. I said to him, “It was clearly an oversight, Wira” and then we had a good laugh.
In a way, I returned the favour on Saturday, because initially, I wasn’t one of his invited guests at a very private tangi. But there was no way I wasn’t going, and me and his wife Hekia Parata had a good laugh amongst the many tears that were shed.
Wira is a whanaunga to my wife, Tania, and Hekia is a whanaunga to me. It was lovely hearing her reminisce about how Wira embraced our Ngāti Porou relations when they got married 30 years ago.
As she said, they could be a bit overbearing, but apparently, Wira took it all in his stride. Handling the Natis wasn’t a problem for a man who seemed to be able to handle anything.
Wira really was the go-to man for Governments, Fiscal envelope, Treaty Settlements process, Foreshore and Seabed, Government Agency problems Wānanga problems, Ihumatao nothing phased him. He was articulate and tough, never mincing words and always calling a spade a spade. He was unafraid of anyone and a long-time National Party member and advisor.
When he was appointed CEO for Oranga Tamariki, it had to be the most remarkable appointment of any Government CEO in the last generation. I mean, who gets appointed to run a government agency at age 77?
That’s how highly Wira Gardiner was rated. He seemed invincible, this former Army officer, TPK CEO, political influencer, author, and writer. Wira did it all and his job was never easy particularly when he was tasked with selling a government position that did not fully support Māori interests.
In fact, it would be fair to say that I disagreed totally with a couple of kaupapa that he advocated for on behalf of different governments but as Hōne Harawira said so well the other day, he accepted as I did that Wira was a rangatira who just had a different view.
His view was, he was born to serve his people firstly as a soldier then as a bureaucrat and I don’t think there is a bureaucrat who can match his achievements Māori or Pākehā.
He was a huge support for my mum when she led the Urban Māori Movement and a great support for me when I won the National Māori news contract with Waatea in 2004, and when I became Minister for Māori Development in 2020.
He helped me at the start of my tenure sort a few things and people out in true Wira style!! We always had a lot of laughs, particularly when I would tease him and his wife about their undying support for their beloved National Party and I will miss him very much.
No reira e te ringaraupa o te Ao Maori kaore au e wareware i au mahi, moe mai , moe mai ra.