'Remarkable New Zealander' Joe Harawira mourned

By -
2 comments
Sawmill worker advocate Joe Harawira (left) pictured with Kereama Akuhata ahead of the Government's Welfare working Group at Victoria University, Wellington. Photo/file
Sawmill worker advocate Joe Harawira (left) pictured with Kereama Akuhata ahead of the Government's Welfare working Group at Victoria University, Wellington. Photo/file

Tributes flow in for QSM recipient Joseph Harawira who has died after years of fighting "corporate warriors".

Mr Harawira, a son of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Te Rangi, spent most of his life in Whakatane where he was relentless in his pursuit for justice for ex-sawmill workers exposed to pentachlorophenol (PCP), a deadly chemical used in New Zealand timber processing for years.

In 1988 Mr Harawira, with other former sawmill workers formed Sawmill Workers Against Poisons to explore the impact of the contamination leading to adverse health.

Their survey was used to bring together the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and Te Puni Kokiri; leading eventually to the establishment of special health services and a clinic.

SWAP then campaigned with Greenpeace to have all remaining contaminated sites cleaned up, including, 25 dumps in the Whakatane area.

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki and co-leader of the Māori Party said Mr Harawira was a "remarkable New Zealander" and he admired Mr Harawira's determination to "take on the corporate warriors, to conduct extensive research into the debilitating effects of PCP and to stand by and for the families affected by chemical poisoning".

"His ground-breaking campaign resulted in significant transformative outcomes for the people and land of Ngāti Awa.

"The research was pivotal in creating a remedial project to clean the whenua and waterways.

"Joe lived the life of a ringa raupa (hard worker). He was dedicated to mātauranga Māori and the protection of the whenua. He was also committed to a path of healing and spiritual commitment.

"He was a devoted trustee for the Riritahi Hona Trust for over 20 years. He earned the respect of tohunga and technical advisors alike.

"He took on MPs, Cabinet Ministers, the research fraternity, scientists and officials.

"Through all of these avenues and relationships, Joe taught us all about sacrifice, courage, perseverance, endurance, and faith.

Joe Harawira fronts the group Sawmill Workers Against Poisons, pictured at a meeting held in Whakatane by the Ministry of Health to discuss the Government's response for former workers. Photo/file
Joe Harawira fronts the group Sawmill Workers Against Poisons, pictured at a meeting held in Whakatane by the Ministry of Health to discuss the Government's response for former workers. Photo/file

"Our love and sympathies are extended to his beloved wife Pare and their tamariki, mokopuna, whānau katoa."

Mr Harawira worked for 29 years in the timber industry before his health declined in 1982, amongst many of his colleagues who were suffering similar symptoms: fatigue, depression, respiratory problems, heart and liver disease and high levels of cancer.

At this time, contaminated sawdust, bark, scrap timber and chemicals were dumped in and around Whakatāne including different marae in Ngāti Awa, especially Taiwhakaea.

His efforts were recorded in a documentary called The Green Chain, and research published in the MAI review ('Joe Harawira: the emergence of a mātauranga Māori environmentalist', 2009).

That review concluded with a sage comment by Joe: 'To be unsuccessful is not failure, failure is not fatal but it is having the courage to continue.'

Council of Trade Unions vice-president Māori Syd Keepa said the union movement was in mourning.

"He worked day in and day out for sawmill workers who were exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job.

"Joe and the team at SWAP helped rip the lid off one of the worst workplace disasters in New Zealand history," Mr Keepa said.

"Joe was one of our best and he leaves an immense legacy. His tireless campaigning saw the Government commit to providing free health support for former sawmill workers who were exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job.

"His campaigning and networking saw local councils commit to cleaning up the toxic sites where the chemicals were dumped," said Keepa.

"Joe's journey took him from the Whakatane board mill all the way to Parliament. Joe was hugely respected wherever he went."

Mr Harawira will be lying in the whare tipuna o Toroa at Pūpūāruhe Marae in Whakatāne from Tuesday, January 10.

For more articles from this region, go to

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 25 May 2017 01:20:19 Processing Time: 55ms