Institute general manager's 40 years spent unleashing and fostering Maori culture nationally and internationally As a kid Eraia Kiel would sit under the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) sign at Whakarewarewa thinking it would be a cool place to work. Last September he became its general manager, overseeing the various schools of learning - carving (wood, stone, ponamu, bone), weaving, waka building. A waka school will be off-site - based close to Northalnd's kauri forest. A bronze foundry, Te Ahi Komau, is a recent addition the Whakarewarewa campus. Surely, we venture, Maori are much more people of the stone age? Eraia sets us straight. "Sure, bronze has been around thousands of years but it's just another way of using our resources." The new additions and older schools' upgrades are part and parcel of the NZMACI-Te Puia $2.5 million upgrade, marking the institute's 50th anniversary. Celebrations next month are planned to coincide with Matariki. Who could want for a better time to be in NZMACI's general manager's chair? For Eraia it was a job worth waiting for. "I'd applied for other roles here in the past, missed out, then this came my way." There'd be few better qualified for the role than this Rotorua-born and bred bloke who's been steeped in matters Maori virtually since birth. When he was 9 his parents sent him to the late Mita Mohi's Mokoia Island weaponry course. "Being embraced in our culture by a wonderful role model was pivotal in my life. Mita took me under his wing; when I was 11, 12, 13 he was taking me around the country teaching taiaha to other kids. Those were really great times, they equipped me with social and cultural skills that have become so handy in knowing how to work with people in all walks of life.
Mita instilled in me and thousands of other young men the core values of self-pride, discipline, respect for people.
Kapa haka began to play a major role in his life; at 15 he was in San Diego performing in the New Zealand America's Cup contingent. He was still at high school when he had his first overseas trip, performing with "Uncle Trevor and Aunty Dina" - long-time Ngati Rangiwewehi leaders Trevor Maxwell and his late wife. "Hence the reason I didn't go to university, my education was travelling the world with kapa haka, you couldn't ask for anything better." Kapa haka remains a major commitment. He and his wife, Tania, (naturally they met through kapa haka) headed their own group, Manaia, which represented Te Arawa at three Te Matatini national championships. At February's Napier event he led the haka as a NZMACI-carved trophy, in memory of national judge the late Mauriora Kingi, was presented by Te Arawa. The couple contract to Te Puia and continue to lead groups overseas - cruise ships included. We flip back to earlier times, his jobs between overseas trips: "performing in hotels, as well as portering, waiting in them; I did a stint at Mear Venison's freezing works." There was also time with 'Koro Bully' - the late Bully Kiel who, for years, ran kids' pony rides, first at Kuirau Park then the lakefront. (Our People
, October 10, 2010). When he was older but, as became apparent, not wiser Eraia went into competition with Bully, hiring out 50cc scooters also at the lakefront. "Koro won of course." Eraia's first 'steady' job was the three years he spent as a deputy registrar in his home town's district and family courts. "It was demanding work but I felt like I was helping our people by them seeing a Maori face, treating them in a way I knew they should be treated." It figures he was a prominent member of the court's cultural group. From his justice role he moved to the police - as a non-sworn youth worker, then a new position. "We were working with young offenders and their families, educating them about their cultural identity." An accident put paid to the job he loved. "We'd taken a group to Auckland, one ran off, we were up all night looking for him, on the way home I nodded off in Fitzgerald's Glade, ran the police van off the road; that boy and myself were seriously injured, it's a miracle we survived, the police were very supportive." Once sufficiently healed he contracted to Team One International, the Eric Rush-Tawera Nikau led training and development company. One of Eraia's briefs was to deliver cultural awareness programmes in the country's prisons often working with fellow Rotorua man Wiremu Edmonds (Our People
, March 14, 2015) "We went into some of the darkest, loneliest places you can imagine, the guards would leave us to it with all these different gang guys." Problems encountered were few. "You knew there wasn't a lot of hope, light in these dark places, our job was to empower them and unleash their culture." On the flip side of Team One's programmes he worked with corporate organisations fostering cultural development programmes. "It was all about team-building, motivational visions, values, we would train entire organisations from senior management to front line staff, that work was very, very fulfilling." Eraia contracted to Team One for 16 years, between assignments teaching tikanga Maori, performing arts and taiaha skills and tutoring with the Manakitanga Aotearoa Trust. An elected member of Te Tatou o Te Arawa, the iwi-council partnership board, he stood unsuccessfully for the council at last year's election. "I did it because I wanted to get our people out there and vote." He's an Apumoana marae committee member, actively involved in its community-based programmes. So his 40 years have been pretty full-on? "Yeah, you could say that." ERAIA KIEL:
Born: Rotorua, 1977. Education: Ngongotaha Primary, John Paul College, Western Heights High School. Family: Wife Tania (nee Fraser), two daughters, son. Interests: Culture, kapa haka, travelling, "spending time with my family". Iwi affiliations: Te Arawa, Tainui, Rongomaiwahine, Ngati Kahungunu. On Rotorua: "It will always be home." Personal philosophy: "Kia mau te tika, te pono me te aroha - always do things correctly, in good faith and love."