He Maimai Aroha - Toni Waho

TONI JAMES DAVIS WAHO (Ngāti Rangi,Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kahungunu)
31 March 1961 – 24 June 2020
Hikohiko te uira, papā te whatitiri, riporipo ngā wai o Te Tokiāhuru, ki raro i te maru o Te Turi o Murimotu.

Hundreds gathered at Tirorangi marae, Karioi at the foot of Maunga Ruapehu recently to pay their respects to Toni Waho, Māori language activist and educationalist, tragically taken by the Tokiāhuru stream near his home and marae.

Dr Cathy Dewes, Tumuaki of Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa and of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata says Toni along with his former partner Penny Poutu were highly respected leaders in Māori language revitalisation.

“Toni and Penny chose te reo Māori to be the first language of their children. They spoke te reo Māori only to their daughter and son who were born in the 1980’s at a time when the benefits of total immersion were not widely recognised,” says Cathy.

“Like many of our generations, we were not raised speaking the language as our parents had grown up being taught that the Māori language was of no value. But Toni and Penny and others in their community broke that cycle. They had researched the benefits of total immersion and intergenerational transmission of the reo. They were adamant their children would grow up with the language and culture, so made this challenging decision to speak only Māori to them from the time they were born – and they  continued speaking te reo Māori to their children into adulthood.”

“They were instrumental in establishing the first kura kaupapa Māori in Palmerston North and later on Te Kōhanga Reo o Mana Tamariki and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mana Tamariki. Toni played a major role in the establishment of the advocacy body for kura kaupapa Māori, Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa and was on the working group that penned Te Aho Matua - the philosophy that underpins kura kaupapa Māori.  He also played a prominent role in Te Rūnanga Nui when they advocated for changes to the Education Act giving legal status to kura kaupapa Māori and later legal status to Te Aho Matua,” says Cathy.

“He had a sharp mind and an ability to analyse the language of the law particularly as it applied to the Education Act. He was determined to see the Māori language and culture thrive in our homes, in our schools, on our marae, on our sport fields and on television and radio,” says Cathy.

In 2013 whilst on the Board of the Kōhanga Reo Trust, Toni raised issues of concern to Government Ministers about allegations of financial irregularities by a subsidiary of the trust. The Board removed him claiming he had brought the trust into disrepute. The High Court ruled his dismissal by the trust was unlawful and later he was awarded costs. Representatives from the trust attended his tangi to make peace.

Toni and others in Te Rūnanga Nui successfully advocated for changes to the review process for kura kaupapa Māori that aligned and reflected Te Aho Matua.

“If it wasn’t for leaders like Toni, Cathy Dewes and others, the kura kaupapa Māori movement would not have advanced in the way that it did,” says Dame Karen Sewell who was National Manager of Reporting Services at the Education Review Office at the time and worked with Te Rūnanga Nui on the new review process.

“What Toni and others achieved was not an easy exercise. It was challenging and I learnt a huge amount in the process. At the time kura kaupapa said that the review office didn’t understand the depth of Te Aho Matua which I think was true. It wasn’t that they said we shouldn’t review them, it was more we couldn’t review them until we found a way together that would ensure that we understood what they were trying to achieve and how an evaluation would be of use to them.”

“Developing a new process wasn’t easy but I never thought it was impossible. That was one of Toni’s strengths.  He sought solutions - he knew where he wanted to go and he was determined to get there, and he took you with him. He was almost single minded in his determination that this could be made to work,” says Dame Karen.

“Toni helped me to better understand the obligations of partnership, for both Māori and the Crown. In working together with Toni and other Māori leaders I learned that it isn’t just about sharing power, but about transferring power.”

“The Education Review office and the Ministry of Education have a responsibility to make sure all children access a good education. If we are to be successful for Māori students then Māori students need to be able to learn in te reo Māori, surrounded by their own cultural experiences, that is absolutely critical. Toni’s leadership in the revitalisation of te reo, particularly within Māori education was extraordinary.”

“The highest compliment that I can pay anyone in education is to say they have made a difference and Toni certainly did that – to his colleagues, to his students and to the system,” says Dame Karen.

Toni was laid to rest at Ngā Mōkai Papakāinga urupā, Karioi on the 28th of June. He leaves behind three brothers, Keri, Rick and Mark, children Hinurewa and Peehi and three mokopuna, Kala‘iakawainui, Kaahuarau, and Kūkuluokahonua.

Moe mai rā ki tō moenga roa e te rangatira.

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