|The Hon. Parekura Horomia and PM Helen Clark|
He called everyone chief: “hey chief”, “oi chief” and “shut up chief”. From the Prime Minister to the lads at the freezing works, everyone was a chief.
Born in 1950 to an ariki line, Parekura Horomia grew up Mangatuna. He was a fencer, a shearer, a scrub-cutter, a printer, a bureaucrat and an MP. Parekura never forgot who he was or where he came from. A staunch union man, a serious farmer and and a strong advocate for female speakers on the paepae, Parekura covered it all. He had (literally) a big heart – from his curls to his tiny feet – the man had time for everyone.
Parekura gave me my first job. Every morning he’d turn up at 9am, I’d hand him his mail and he’d shuffle into his office. He’d read it, he’d call people and then he’d yell “chief, chief”. I’d stroll into his office not entirely sure whether I’d be on the receiving end of a growling or a story. Most times it was a story. He’d sit me down and ask two things: where do you live and who do you live with. He liked to know those sorts of things. I’d tell him I live in Thorndon with seven mates. He wouldn’t say anything, but he’d reach for his wallet and pull out a note – it was my lunch money. It was his way of saying that he worries that I’m not eating. Being a student I think he thought I was living in poverty. That might have even being the reason he offered me a job in the first place. I’m not sure. It was hard to get a straight answer out of him; he was a politician’s politician.
Little known fact: Parekura was also a man of faith. He didn’t talk much about it – I never heard him mention it – but I knew it was there from what other people had said. I think that’s where he drew much of his generosity from. He was also from the old Maori world. He had a different code of honour and I know that he worried about being one of the last to have seen full paepae, one of the last to have seen ancient tikanga and so on. That’s the last thing he told me: he was one of the last. I think that worried him and made him happy in equal measure. He was the last to know the old ways, but also one of the last to suffer the open injustices of colonial New Zealand.
I don’t think my experiences with Parekura are uncommon. Across the motu people have their own Parekura stories. He treated everyone with the same generosity, kindness and respect. From his colleagues to his staff. From his people on the coast to Maori across the country. I don’t think we’ll see another Parekura Horomia in Maori politics. He transcended the conflict that comes with being fiercely Maori, but he also dodged the conflict that came with the foreshore and seabed and other acts of injustice. Such was the respect Maori and many New Zealanders had for the man.
The debate about his political legacy will be mixed, but the time isn't now. Now is the time to reflect on his personal legacy. One of the last Maori statesmen.
Moe mai ra e te rangatira, moe mai ra e hoa ma. Rest easy Chief.