One of the first conference calls of many to take place between the new Māori Party leadership was interrupted with a marketing suggestion by a future voter.
“We need Māori Party basketballs” was the recommendation from 10-year-old Te Kanawa, younger son of freshly elected President Che Wilson.
You get a sense pretty quickly that the new leadership is about to bring new energy to the political landscape. In February at Rotorua, 41-year-old Che Wilson and 35-year-old Kaapua Smith were elected with great enthusiasm by a capacity crowd who had been attracted to the ‘new beginning’ that the Māori Party 2018 Hui-a-Tau was promoted as.
Over a decade ago, the founding President of the Māori Party, Whatarangi Winiata, told the Māori Party AGM at Omahu Marae in Hastings that in the 1960s when he had visited Chicago Museum there was an exhibit of a perfect human specimen – the New Zealand Māori. It is tempting to speculate that these two young leaders represent that ideal in the staggering list of accomplishments they have already achieved.
After acquiring a Bachelor of Arts – Honours – in international relations, politics and Māori, Che has shown a particular flair in the areas of environmental management and tribal leadership. He has been a member of the Tongariro-Taupō Conservancy Board; the National Māori Advisory Board for Geological Nuclear Science; a member of the Māori Heritage Council; Deputy Chief Executive for the Ministry for Environment and an Environment Court Commissioner.
His formal scholarship also took place with the last two tohunga ahurewa of Whanganui in the traditional forms of ruruku (karakia tawhito), whakapapa, whaikōrero, waiata and mau rākau. Since the early 2000s Che has been a teacher within his iwi in these disciplines. His contribution to the cultural sector is significant as a composer, performer, author, curator (of the award winning photographic exhibition, Te Pihi Mata); a Māori Language interpreter and translator; and a member of the Harvard based Philanthropic Trust, Cultural Survival.
More recently his focus has galvanised around the settlement process for one of his iwi, Ngati Rangi, at the foot of Koro Ruapehu. But while his leadership skills have been put to the test as Chief Negotiator, it is through the lens of whānau that his greatest challenges lie. Che is particularly proud of the project he has lead across his home towns - Waiouru, Raetihi and Ohakune for its capacity to grow the social and economic aspirations of the people. The Ruapehu Whānau Transformation project has crystallised for him the essence of Whānau Ora: that if you place faith in our families, change can happen.
Che is on the Māori King’s Council of Twelve (Tekau ma Rua). This is a traditional council of tribal rangatira selected by iwi. Whether at the Maori Leaders Boot Camp in Stanford, or as a member of Māori business delegations to Hawai’i, China, Alaska, Bolivia, New Mexico or Cambridge, it would appear that this young man is both confident and comfortable in any setting.
His aunty Tariana (Turia), once told Che the worst pitfall in politics was to start to believe your own press. Luckily for Che he has a whānau of critics and confidants who will remind him firmly of his place – as the youngest child of nine; a father of Te Kanawa and Hinerauhamoa; a husband to Riria (Missy) and a servant to his iwi.
While Che and Missy were living in London at the time of the 2004 hikoi, Kaapua Smith (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Apa, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngati Awa) was a young solo mum. Her son Te Haanea was just two at the time. Next election will be his first to cast a vote, so she’s inspired by ensuring there is a strong kaupapa Maori option for him and his generation to vote for in the next election.
Kaapua’s initial entry into politics was as a member of Pita Sharples campaign team in 2005. Later she would stand as a candidate for the Māori Party in 2011 (2nd on the list); in the midst of a five year period in which she served as private secretary, press secretary and advisor to Hon Dr Pita Sharples and Hon Tariana Turia. Like Che, Kaapua has been widely sought for her political commentary; she’s been a champion for the Maori electoral option, and most recently has been invited to be a guest speaker on Māori political participation in Chile while frequently invited to be a researcher, panellist, commentator and advisor on Māori Television (Native Affairs, Arero, Kowhiri 08).
Kaapua is an established author, while also having served as a tutor, mentor and project manager for Māori and Indigenous Research. Scholarship runs in the blood – her parents are Professors Graham and Linda Smith; her koro Hirini Moko Mead.
Since May 2017 Kaapua has been Head of Sustainability for Contact Energy; responsible for leading Contact’s sustainability, environment, property and community partnership teamsTangata whenua engagement has been one of her focus areas, a key priority in building a culture of sustainability and awareness of tangata whenua issues within the organisation.
This is the new look of the Māori Party. A graduate of Auckland University in Political Studies and Māori Studies, Kaapua is also a proud alumni of Hato Hohepa; St Josephs Māori Girls College in Napier. As an old girl of a Māori boarding school; a graduate of kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori; Kaapua is part of the lucky generation – fluent in te reo Māori; comfortable in her own skin; a mokopuna who has benefitted from the legacy of those who fought to make her future secure.
As a young mum, Kaapua now carries that passion and pride into her most important role – raising Te Haanea (15) and Niwa (9). Yes, she is a Generation Y politician, a freelance writer, a researcher, an advisor, happy on snapchat, a dedicated contributor on social media. But in her heart of hearts, the greatest call on her time is nurturing that spark of creative hunger in her two boys – one who has always dreamt of being an astronaut; the other modelling his lifeplan on Maui Supergod. Her goal is to help make that happen.