Sir Pita Sharples KNZM CBE
Sir Pita Sharples is charismatic and a great raconteur but after talking with him what you quickly realise is that he’s a warrior for change.
For decades, Sir Pita has been fighting for customary rights and the survival of the Māori language. Sir Pita campaigned for the creation of Whānau Ora and has spoken out against family violence. For Sir Pita, people come first, especially his kaumātua, who played an important role in his childhood:
“I was brought up in a small village in Takapau, in central Hawkes Bay. I found it was easy to fit into the community. You had respect for your elders and your mate’s elders. We were brought up as one big whanau. Everybody’s parents were our parents. Everybody’s grandparents were our grandparents – Māori and Pākehā alike. My uncles came back from World War II and I was able to absorb their love and respect for their parents. That had a big impact on me. My uncles were our heroes and we were the beneficiaries of the deeds they’d done."
Tikanga Maori – culture and values have shaped Sir Pita’s life
In 1985, Sir Pita co-founded the first kura kaupapa (primary school operating under Māori custom) at Waitakere’s Hoani Waititi Marae. He later established the first whare kura (secondary school). He continues to be involved in Te Reo and kapa haka across the country.
“I’m still battling for Māori to be made compulsory in schools. It’s crazy that it’s not. Another project I feel very passionate about is ‘Pillars’. This is a mentoring programme for children whose fathers are in prison. We have mentors around the country, and they each take on one child and it’s their role to be there for them while Dad is in jail. They do a marvellous job."
Sir Pita’s philosophy is that if you treat people positively, you get positive results.
“While I was Associate Minister of Corrections, we created a Maori prison with no wire fence or bars - and even now no one has escaped because no one tries to. It’s a place where offenders are learning how to use a computer and get a job, and basically rebuild their lives when they get back into the community. It’s rehabilitating people and Corrections is looking at developing the concept."
Sir Pita continues to be active in promoting the Maori economy.
“I’ve lead Maori trade delegations to China. The Maori economy is booming. Things like honey and seafood – can you believe we’re now even growing ginseng and exporting it to China?"
Sir Pita has leant his voice to the campaign against elder abuse
“We have to respect the old and we need to help the people around them to do this. It’s important to intervene when we see bullying going on with our older people. It can happen within families – and anywhere. We must act immediately by diffusing the situation without causing a negative reaction from the abuser.”
Retirement isn’t an option for Sir Pita
“As always, I’m working at the marae and I’m on a large number of boards and committees. I’ve also got whanau who depend on me to support them so I need to keep working.”