“An exciting time for Māori development – and I want to be a part of that” – Willis Katene

Meet Willis Katene (Ngāti Toa, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) the new Regional Manager for Te Tai Hauāuru. No stranger to hard work, when asked what she is most looking forward to in her new role, the tertiary education practitioner is nothing but upbeat about what lies ahead.

Published: Rāpare, 19 Poutūterangi, 2015 | Thursday, 19 March 2015

“Te Puni Kōkiri is at the forefront of Māori development. I could see the transformation the organisation was undertaking and the possibilities it presented. It is an exciting time for Māori development and I want to be a part of that.

I’m looking forward to building new and developing existing relationships with iwi and non-iwi communities, and that they have confidence in us [Te Puni Kōkiri] to work with them. This takes time. At the end of the day it comes down to us walking the talk. I believe this will make the difference,” said Willis.

Education will be high on her list of talking points when engaging with people in the Nelson, Lower Hutt, Palmerston North, Whanganui and Taranaki regions.

“There’s such a lot happening in education. There’s a good deal of work that has been put into developing good strategies to support Māori. Yet even with the advancement of technologies, the uptake of Māori pursuing higher education is still relatively low. I look forward to talking to people in the regions to see how we can turn this around.”

When talking to Willis it’s very clear that her passion to pursue higher education is deeply rooted from the support of her whānau.

“In my extended family, my siblings were the first to get into tertiary education. When it came to my time to go to University, the push from my brother was enough to convince me to come down to Wellington and join him and his wife at Vic [Victoria University of Wellington]. Eventually my sister returned from overseas and joined us at Vic. All four of us were students together. That’s how we got through. Over the years we’ve encouraged other members of our whānau to pursue higher education.”

Willis graduated with the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from Victoria University of Wellington and completed a Masters in Māori and Management from Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

She shares that her brother would go on to get a PhD and three of her siblings would graduate with a Master’s degree. Now that’s pretty impressive.

In 1990 after graduating, Willis started working in the tertiary education sector as a tutor for the Ngāti Toa private training establishment (PTE) in Porirua. Whilst delivering the marae-based research training programme, Willis was able to connect with her taha Māori; something she says was missing growing up in their Hamilton household.

“I come from the generation where our parents prioritised Pākehā education and all that ‘Māori stuff’ was put to the side. In Porirua, I learnt about manaakitanga, looking after manuhiri, tikanga. A lot of my learning was done in the kitchen. That’s where you learn the best stuff.”

Her next role was as Co-Director for Iwi and Hapū Studies and then Director of Paihere Tangata at Te Wānanga o Raukawa which moved her into leading community development.

She was then appointed as Director for Whitireia Polytechnic, a role she held for eight years. Willis was a part of the development of a new Māori Strategy for Whitireia and managing both the qualifications offered at Whitireia and student support areas for the whole polytechnic. However, one project she is particularly proud of is being a part of the development of the Bachelor of Nursing Māori degree.

“Ngāti Toa cares about health services and wants to see more Māori working in this area. We heard their call for help and responded with the development of the Bachelor of Nursing Māori degree.

The success of the Māori nursing degree is not mine alone, but is the achievement of many individuals, community groups and iwi. I guess the old whakataukī has never been more relevant, Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi, engari, he toa takitini.”

More recently she has been appointed as the new Regional Manager at Te Puni Kōkiri for Te Tai Hauāuru.

When asked what drew her to apply for the role, she shared her enthusiasm for working under Māori leadership.

“At the time I was looking for a change and just really craving to be a part of an organisation with a Māori leadership style. It was exciting to read up on our current Executive Team, in particular our Chief Executive [Michelle Hippolite]. I admire her as a professional and it’s encouraging to see a Māori woman as our leader.”

“Even though my experience has primarily been in the tertiary education sector and this role has a much broader scope, I come to it ready to work hard to understand the issues and to develop fit for purpose solutions in Te Tai Hauāuru.”

With an established history already in the Wellington and Kāpiti area, Willis is keen to renew some old relationships and build new ones across the entire Te Tai Hauāuru region, from the top of the South Island to the top of Taranaki.

“I want to hear from the people in the region, what their aspirations are, and build capacity for the people to achieve them,” she says.

When she isn’t flat out with work, Willis spends time with her whānau and is heavily involved in her kid’s sports. Waka ama is something they’re heavily committed to, and so she manages a team every year. She says “Our Māori kids are naturally talented in sports, and I love being a part of that.”

As Te Tai Hauāuru Regional Manager, Willis is based at the Lower Hutt office.