To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.
Bill Kaua: A man for All Seasons
Bill Kaua has lived an extraordinary life, at a fascinating period in NZ's history.
Bill can easily be described as an exemplar of the vision of Tā Apirana Ngata’s “E tipu, E rea.” His is a story born of the possibilities of the Treaty of Waitangi. He is living proof that Sir Apirana Ngata's advice in "E tipu, e rea" was profound and that being bilingual and bicultural increases the chances of health, happiness and well-being. Most importantly, pāpā Bill’s life is a living testimony of the mana of indigeneity, of the power of "Tū Tangata" and the benefits of cultural intelligence and literacy.
The Te Kōhanga reo movement turned 40 recently. Bill was a founding Manager in the movement. He has watched the movement grow and prosper and been a faithful servant of the kaupapa. The graduates of te kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori, wharekura, and their whānau, may well be wondering what life looks like moving forward after an investment in kaupapa Māori education. Bill’s, long and varied career, is an account which provides an interesting exploration of that question. He has lived with purpose, passion and a powerful mandate from his tīpuna to contribute to Aotearoatanga, nation building, in ways which they would recognise, honour and see the future in. Bill was a tireless advocate for the possibilities of ngā taonga tuku iho.
Bill’s legacy helps us all explore an insiders account of what living in the Māori world, in authentic ways, looks like. He could walk into any organisation in this country, onto any marae, be part of any kind of kaupapa that had Aotearoa at its heart and be at home. He knew people everywhere and was connected to kaupapa from his earliest working days to his most recent advice to Waitangi Tribunal Claims and organisations in which he was kaumātua. Why? Because he could genuinely connect with people: he cared deeply about humanity. He had a disarming way of setting people at ease, whatever the circumstances.
Governments around the world still struggle to create equitable public policy outcomes for Indigenous people. Bill's life opens up the role and status of the traditional Māori Cultural Infrastructure for all to see. Though subjected to relentless attack through colonization, Te Tirohanga Māori, the Māori Worldview, and the complex Māori cultural infrastructure which supports it, were not extinguished by colonization, and to this day support whānau, hapū and iwi to live as Māori, championing both mātauranga Māori and kaupapa Māori.
On Friday, June 24, 2022, when Aotearoa New Zealand celebrated Matariki publicly for the first time, Sir Pou Tamara spoke of NZ coming of age. Sometimes, learning about the lived experience of someone who has walked the pathway you aspire to, showing you the ‘what and how’ of change, as much as the why, is a much-needed tonic. Knowing and being around Bill was like that. For so many Bill was a beacon of hope, a repository of knowledge and wisdom borne of deep engagement in the possibilities of Te Tirohanga Māori, the Māori worldview.
At the level of lived experience, what Dr Wayne Ngata has termed ‘kia māori,’ Bill's story is an exemplar of the better Māori outcomes that successive governments in New Zealand have tried to achieve. E te pāpā e Bill, your story generates such powerful insights which so many have learnt from already across the decades of your public service. You have been mentor, role model, tutor, pāpā, kaumātua, uncle and hoa haere to generations of officials. Your work has been an open book to those hungry to know about how to do their jobs better. Uncle Bill, they will all be reflecting on their special stories and moments with you. And there will be volumes of those memories shared in the coming months as people learn of your passing.
Anyone who knows you has a great story to tell that they shared with you. You loved a good laugh. And you had a great way of using humour to mix the light and the dark to make people feel at home around you. A favourite is still the time in 1991 when you led a NZ Delegation to a United Nations Sub Regional Conference on Cultural Development in Education held in Rarotonga. The late Te Ao Peehi Kara was our kaumātua; you were Tour Leader in your role as the GM Māori in the Ministry of Education. Dame Iritana represented kōhanga reo; Aroha Sharples, kura kaupapa (Hoani Waititi); Edna Tait, Secondary Education (Tikipunga High School); and me, tertiary education (Victoria University). It was heady stuff and on day three Dame Iritana and Te Ao Peehi asked to be forgiven to take leave of the conference to seek medical help for their ailments. As our kaumātua the conference was of course supportive, and concerned about their welfare as they “hobbled” out of the room at the start of the day. Later that day the conference organisers thought that we needed a break and organised a bus ride around the Island for us. At one point on the journey the bus approached one of the holes of the local golf course that was close to the main road. There was Dame Iritana, Te Ao Peehi and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands teeing off! You leapt to your feet, called out “gotcha,” got us all to wind our windows down and had the bus driver stop right next to them so that we could all jeer out the window! It was hilarious. The looks on their faces. Only topped by the “fake limps” they had to feign when they returned to the conference that night. NO doubt about it. Tarau had mimi in them that day!
The stories you spun were legendary. Because you had been ‘in the arena,’ for decades. Inside the machinery of government, up close and personal, bare fisted when necessary, making sense of the "machine" and working to transform it. You were ever the optimist because you KNEW what it meant to live the vision the Treaty offers: you lived what the successive governments were trying to achieve. You fought for what was possible, what works, and you could articulate why. Not everyone did or could. Your colleagues trusted you because you walked alongside them, worked with them and made them active players in the tasks at hand.
You were born to exemplify “E tipu, e rea” and ‘Tū tangata” with passion, aplomb and mercy. Te reo me ona tikanga are your first language and you were their advocate and champion in everything you did.
Your career as a public servant is characterised by Tiriti centred praxis in which cultural authenticity and integrity were pou. You were a Māori public servant who advocated for the people, took the hits and stood up for more as long as there was work to be done to promote the kaupapa.
Beyond your paid roles you were kaumātua and advisor to numerous organisations and entities, ensuring that the vision of te Tiriti that our tīpuna signed up to was woven into organisational culture and structure.
Perhaps the favourite season of your life was your role as a good shepherd, a servant of your God and of your faith. You have devoted your retirement to being of increased service to your faith, whilst continuing your broader service to Aotearoa and to your tīpuna: a powerful statement about whakapono (faith), tumanako (hope) and aroha (compassion).
Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to your pūrakau Bill, ‘to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven’.
You really are 'a man for all seasons' Bill, something Clergy often aspire to but don’t always achieve. Across the seasons of your life your journey has been characterised by generosity, hope and service. And we, the grateful recipients, are the richer for it.
Dr Doris Kaua and the Kaua Whānau
Bill is survived by his wife Doris, his children and grandchildren.
At Bills side, Doris, his soul mate, friend and wife of over forty-five years, walked with him through all the seasons of his life. A long-time public servant herself, Doris knew intimately the path Bill walked as she is one of the very few Māori women whose careers have included senior roles in Government Departments, NGO’s, academia and in business. Qualified with a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and the degree Doctor of Philosophy, Doris added a research and scholarship dimension to Bill’s work which we know he valued and counted on heavily. During Covid, for example, Doris provided the IT and computer skills that were critical to support your ability to lead karakia and worship online. In Bill’s later years, Doris was Bills loving primary care giver as well as his poutokomanawa. Doris’s first rate care added a quality to Bills life which was a testimony of her deep love for her beloved husband. Bill spoke openly about his love and respect for Doris and was her number one supporter. There’s was a rare, deeply enriched marriage.
Bill’s children and grandchildren are a major source of love and pride to Bill and Doris. Bill is a beloved father of his 8 children: Peter, Paul, Susan (deceased), Leah, Chris, Hapai, Sharon & Andrew. Bill is a loving grandfather of 23 mokopuna and 28 mokopuna Tuarua who make up the strong and loving Kaua whānau.