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Crediting Others for Her Queens Birthday Honour

3 June 2013

Crediting Others for Her Queens Birthday Honour

As National President, Kataraina O’Brien has sat at the helm of Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora - Maori Women’s Welfare League since 2011. She credits the bestowing of an ONZM – Officer of the NZ Order of Merit in the 2014 Queens Birthday Honours, as belonging to others in the League who have been involved in supporting the Maori community over many years.

While her involvement in the League does indeed span almost 50 years, the humbled 74 year old has led, and been at the forefront of many other initiatives as an educationalist, an exemplar of Te reo Maori, a committed community citizen, a loving and supportive wife, mum and proud great, great grandmother.

O’Brien says her late husband, Michael, insisted she was not to compromise working in the community while nursing him up until he lost his battle with cancer.

“He was completely supportive of my mahi. And before him, my aunts and nannies, especially the late Rumatiki Wright who influenced my early involvement in the League and proved to be a lifetime role model for me.”

Rather than enjoy the moment, O’Brien admits to wanting to get to the bottom of the matter. “I seem to have struck a brick wall with finding out who nominated me.” Although she’s not sure what she would say to them, she does concede “It’s probably a bit late for a growling.”

When reminded the Queen’s Birthday Honour was completely hers to own, O’Brien acknowledged the highlight for her in the last 50 years had been witnessing the progress less fortunate whanau who have made changes to their lifestyles.

“Under the successful Whanau Toko i te Ora programme, delivered by the League over a number of years, I saw and experienced first hand, the phenomenal issues facing many whanau. They lived in houses that weren’t warm, kai was absent from the table, and alcohol and drug abuse was common, so seeing the progress made under the programme by whanau turning their lives around, has been a huge highlight for me.”

In another attempt to shift the spotlight from herself, O’Brien says seeing some of her former students succeed has been hugely satisfying and memorable as she reflects on highlights in her life. “The heights to which people like Dr Lance O’Sullivan who was made New Zealander of the Year, Jamie Tuuta, the Maori Trustee, and Pierre Tohe, BNZ’s head of Maori Business, as well as many young ladies who have gone on to become doctors and lawyers, are people I am really very proud of.”

When asked what the key issue would be for Maoridom moving forward, without hesitation, O’Brien said it was about collaboration. “We need to work collectively at all levels of the community. Whanau, hapu, iwi and organisations and when we do, we will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Little known facts about the 74 year-old League National President is, she is very au fait with technology and her smart phone, often using Facebook to connect with whanau, as well as, keeping up with League business.

Technology is something she often reminds others her age and younger, as being critical to communication in today’s contemporary world. Likewise, she maintains good health by keeping active and being an advocate for fresh vegetable and fruit juicing on a daily basis as part of her healthy diet.

The National President’s three-year term will change in September 2014 at the League’s National Conference in Tauranga, her beloved late husband’s hometown and where O’Brien now resides.

However, there’s no doubt the new officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit who hails from Te Teko, will be fondly missed with her humble, genuine and gentle leadership.

League General Manager, Awhimai Reynolds says Kataraina O’Brien has always given “selfless service to the League and the community” and attributes the reason Reynolds applied for the GM position in early 2013. “I heard our National President speak at the League’s National Conference in 2012 and was totally inspired by what she said and the hope she held for our future.”


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