With her uniquely warm energy and fierce determination to uplift Maori women, meeting Te Rōpu has been one of this year's most fortuitous events. Captured as one of the people who continue to influence and inspire us, we talked to Te Rōpu about not only what she does but who she is - the change she hopes to see in the world and what makes her truly happy.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
I am from Kaikohe in Northland and I am the chief executive officer for Te Rūnanga which is part of the Ngāpuhi group which is the largest Iwi in New Zealand.
Can we touch a little bit on what you and Maggie have in the pipeline?
Certainly! As Ngāpuhi, we are 1 of 11 Iwi that come together and work together on how we can create sustainable projects that contribute to the wellbeing of our community. When Maggie and I met, she explained her ambition to create more manufacturing opportunities and greater employment in New Zealand, specifically in Northland, where she is from. I share this vision so we agreed we would work together. From here we got financial reports completed and while in the process, we also discovered that during the lockdown the unemployment rate in Northland rose however it was mainly women who lost their jobs. And from these women, it was predominantly Maori women. So we have been looking at what we can do for our young women and how they can be more inspired and excited about their work. Maggie’s ideas around manufacturing in Northland seemed to tick all the boxes for us as Maori - it looks after our environment, it takes care of our people and we are working in a good, open, and honest way to develop a solution to a need that is quite unique to Northland. In Northland the main economy is manufacturing trees - there’s nothing for women. So this is a really exciting opportunity to provide jobs for these women and jobs that they feel proud of.
What is your background?
I suppose I’ve always believed that you have to work hard to get anything. When I was younger I used to pick strawberries in Albany when my parents were living there and I worked in takeaway bars - so I’ve done things like this but I knew I wasn’t going to do that for the rest of my life. I had a dream that I didn’t want to be unemployed in Northland. I knew I needed to have an education and I wanted to work for my people to make a difference. I’ve had some great opportunities along the way so when you get to my age, you want to leave a legacy, and part of that legacy for me is that we get women into an industry that they would never have had the opportunity to even consider unless they came to Auckland.
Do you have a favourite memory in the short time you've been working with Maggie?
My favourite is when she and I went to mihi whakatau, an announcement by Shane Jones in Kaikohe to open the new sport centre. It was very local. With Kaikohe, I said to Maggie, I can’t tell you - I have to show you. It was also during the biggest storm Northland has seen in 500 years and Maggie and I were driving along - she was driving, and you know how tiny she is - and we were in this truck and it was sliding everywhere, and all I was thinking was ‘It’s okay, we’ll get home, if her Dad has taught her, we will be alright.’ I will never forget that day.
What makes you, you? Separate fro your job, who are you as a person?
I am a grandmother, first. All I want to be is the best Nana in the world. I also love to stay home and take care of people.
What are three things you value most in others?
Whanau, relationships and being respectful to everyone.
What makes you happiest in the world?
When others are happy. I see a lot of disadvantaged people and a lot of children that go without. So I’m happy when I know I’ve been able to help make a difference. It’s simple really - we all need somewhere to live, something to eat and something to do. And I believe if we can help people find these things, we will be much happier and our children will be safe.
Finally, where is your Somewhere? The place where you feel most at peace, grounded, revived and regenerated.
My Somewhere is Omapere, where my home is in the Hokianga. If you look to the left, according to history that's where Kupe came in when Maori first landed. So everytime I look out there I think of him coming in the waka, it's quite a spiritual place, I've loved it there forever.