Introducing one man who in his time has played many parts

What do you call someone with a degree in earth sciences, has been a senior hospital manager, chief executive at Te Puia, held high-ranking positions at Te Papa and Te Puni Kokiri and so much more?

If that someone's home town is Rotorua the answer's Te Taru White, a multi-faceted fellow if ever there was one, his ice white hair a beacon of authority.

He's the man at the helm of Te Tatou o Te Arawa, the iwi partnership with the council that's ruffled feathers locally yet won a Local Government Association achievement award.

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In addition, he's programme director of the Lake Rotorua Incentive Scheme aimed at reducing the waterway's alarmingly high nitrogen levels and is deeply involved with the Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA).

How can one man's life footprint be so large?

Rotorua may be Te Taru's home, but the world's been his workplace. He spent four years in Canada working with its First Nation people on development programmes which included establishing a Native Investment Trade Association Board. To that add liaising with major international museums, the British Museum and Louvre included.

All of which had its genesis at Western Heights High (where he played in the 1st XV) where Te Taru developed what he describes as "an affinity with the landscape - papatuanuku".

It took him to the Ministry of Works (MOW) in Turangi where construction on the Tongariro power scheme was in full swing.

"I was this little Maori boy running around measuring earth and concrete strength with an x-ray machine, I'd be right up inside the penstocks, Turangi was booming, was filled with Italian tunnellers with their mountains of Chianti bottles."

Te Taru enrolled at Waikato University - his sights set on an earth science degree.

"It was at the time it wasn't sexy to be a Maori who dared not to be in arts or humanities. For me it was a slow, five-year journey. I was mixing study with work to pay for it, driving buses and delivery trucks, working as a barman serving all those other students."

Along the way he married his Rotorua girlfriend the late Merenia Kingi, daughter of Te Arawa kaumatua and kuia Pihopa and Inez Kingi (Our People, July 28, 2013).

A journalist, Merenia secured work in Wellington where the newly-graduated Te Taru rejoined the MOW.

"I was promoted to engineering geologist, site testing for motorway flyovers, The Terrace tunnel. I got to spend six months on a barge at Evans Bay investigating extensions to Wellington airport. We'd chuck our net over the side and have major fish feasts."

During his MOW days honours from Victoria University were added to his degree portfolio.

Work on the Clutha Dam followed and, closer to home, Ohaaki's geothermal project where he was charged with sussing out a safe anchorage for its landmark 105m cooling tower, the country's largest.

From Ohaaki it was on to Huntly's coal fields, working in open cast and below ground sites.

With such an intimate geological knowledge of the nature of these beasts, who better to seek their view on whether the Pike River miners' bodies should be recovered?

"From a Maori perspective I would exercise our spiritual processes to honour them; from a safety angle I believe that it's their tomb, that they should be left to rest there."

Te Taru has been deep underground in a burning mine.

"I went down with my drilling rig; right there at the coalface working blind, all the while hearing the sound of the coal cracking, I have to say I'm a little bit claustrophobic."

When the mining industry was corporatised Te Taru headed a support centre for redundant miners based on the Maori king's home marae, Waahi.

"It was an amazing time, then I was asked by Maori Affairs (later Te Puni Kokiri) to do a similar thing for Tokoroa's forestry workers."

That completed, he moved to the Rotorua office and a posting as assistant director of tribal engagement.

"I was in Opotiki the day Tama Iti threw down his submissions written on a horse blanket - it's now in the Treaty of Waitangi Museum."

Time with the Bay of Plenty Health Board followed, working as equal opportunities co-ordinator. Rotorua Hospital enticed him to lead its human resources department.

Redundancies were back on his order paper.

"It was the time of multiple lay-offs, I was dealing with 10 unions, over 100 redundancies, and I have to say I'm proud that we never had one personal grievance taken against us. I think a lot of it was because we were able to place so many in jobs."

Te Taru was in on the ground floor when his mother-in-law established first Te Utuhina Manaakitanga Trust "one of the most successful drug and alcohol addiction centre in the country" then Tipu Ora health centre.

The offer of becoming Te Papa's kaihautu (Maori leader) tempted him back to the capital. There he was instrumental in installing Ngati Pikiao's Te Takinga pataka (food store house) a Te Papa centrepiece, and the repatriation of Maori remains from overseas museums and private collections.

Becoming Te Puia's chief executive was a natural progression.

"I concentrated on stripping off that plastic veneer Maori tourism had, I will never resile from the fact culture first and commerce will follow."

His Te Puia tenure spanned three years.

"I believe in moving on when your time is done."

He continues "to hook into" Canada but it's his leadership of the council-iwi partnership committee and Lake Rotorua Incentive Scheme that now claims the bulk of his time.

"Our lakes and waterways are our crown jewels. As a kid I dived for koura in them, if in 50 years my mokos' moko can do that I'll feel as if I've left them a legacy."

TE TARU WHITE
Born: Rotorua, 1953
Education: Western Heights Primary, Sunset Intermediate, Western Heights High, Waikato, Victoria universities
Family: Partner Adrienne Whitehouse, 2 daughters, 1 son, 3 mokopuna
Interests: "I love riding motorbikes, have just sold my Harley." "Golf with mates at Hinehopu. My handicap? It's now 20, these old bones don't seem to do what they're meant to." Indigenous development.
Iwi affiliations: Ngati Pikiao, Tainui, Ngati Porou
His name's meaning: "Literally translated Te Taru's 'weed'. I'm proud of that, weeds are the most resilient plants on earth."
On Te Tatau o Te Arawa partnership: "I acknowledge people have their views but change is here, change is necessary for the common good."
Personal Philosophy: "That what I've done mattered for my children and their children to prosper."