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Minister’s tribute to “true visionary”

Dr Kihi Ngatai was an influential figure in the region. File photo.

The Minister for Māori Development is paying tribute to Dr Kihi Ngatai OSM.

The kaumātua of Tauranga Moana passed away earlier this week at the age of 91.

A powerhouse in the Māori community of Tauranga for generations, Ngatai’s loss has been keenly felt across the region.

Willie Jackson, the Minister for Māori Development, is expressing his admiration for Kihi and his sadness at news of his passing.

“Along with his late wife Maria, the couple planted the first kiwifruit vines in the Tauranga region more than 40 years ago,” he says.

“He was a true visionary and will be sadly missed by his whānau and the wider community.”

Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Pukenga are still mourning the loss of the Māori horticultural pioneer, whose nehu/funeral will take place Thursday.

Born and raised in the rural seaside community of Matapihi, in his early years, Kihi joined the railways to pursue his ambition to become a train driver.

Mātua Kihi then spent two-and-a-half years in the military serving in Korea. On his return, Kihi re-joined the railways where he met his wife Maria, who passed away in 2017.

But it was in the farming industry and governance roles, where he would stamp his mark. In the late 1950s, Kihi and Maria moved back to Matapihi to run the whānau dairy farm.

He would later convert the 35 hectare farm into a kiwifruit orchard. The orchard opened employment opportunities for the whānau and the community.

He would later become the director of the Māori kiwifruit growers’ fraternity, Te Awanui Huka Pak.

Kihi was also a Ngāi Te Rangi trustee for the Mauao historic reserve and represented Ngāi Te Rangi and Tauranga Moana in formal occasions regarding iwi matters.

He was awarded a Queen’s Birthday Honour in 2006, a Tā Kingi Ihaka Toi Māori award in 2009, was the first chairman of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Te Rangi and was a Waitangi Tribunal member.

In 2014, Kihi was awarded an honorary doctorate for his contribution to Māori welfare and leadership for Tauranga iwi.

“Mātua Kihi dedicated his life to caring for the whenua and working in the horticulture industry and his legacy lives on through his whānau and all those he helped,” Jackson concludes.

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