Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa iwi Ngati Kahungunu will today start celebrating a rare moment in the elevation of one of its own to the realm of Knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Dr Pita Sharples, still calling Hawke's Bay home after 50 years living in Auckland, becomes Sir Pita Sharples, in the footsteps of Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who was knighted in 2011, and the late Sir Turi Carroll, knighted in 1962 - thought to be the two most recently-knighted of Kahungunu descent.

Formally now a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM), and having 25 years ago been honoured with a CBE for services to Maori, he is recognised for further such services and for his nine years as a Member of Parliament. He is one of seven to be honoured as Knight or Dame.

While having lived in Auckland for most of the last 55 years, he was in 1988 founding chairman of iwi structure Te Runanganui o Ngati Kahungunu, forerunner of Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, which was formed in 1997.


Born in Waipawa and having started school in Takapau, he ultimately spent seven years at high school, including four at Sir Turi's old school, Te Aute College.

He was Head Boy, which he has said was a turning-point in his life. Having spent two years trying to get School C, and two more getting UE, he then became an academic at Auckland University, obtaining a BA in Geography and Anthropology, an MA (1st class) in Anthropology, and a PhD in Anthropology and Linguistics, along with a Diploma in Teaching from Auckland Post Primary Teachers College.

The son of shearer and second-generation New Zealander Paul Sharples, whose family had come from England, the heritage of mother Ruiha, including sub-tribes Ngati Pahauwera of Northern Hawke's Bay and Ngai te Kikiri o te Rangi, of Bay of Plenty, was put to use in Auckland where he headed the building of intertribal and urban marae Hoani Waititi, and 30 years ago founded the first kura kaupapa, a full-immersion maori language and culture school.

Adept in the use and history of the taiaha, he created a National School of Maori Weaponry, and in 1969 Te Roopu Manutaki Maori, which paved the way for major urban kapa haka, and became a champion unit at the Aotearoa Maori Culture Festival (now Te Matatini). He led the group for 40 years, including composing, choreography, and performing, and has been succeeded as leader by son Paora.

He pioneered the Race Relations office, being Chief Executive Officer from 1972 to 1980, but his move into politics came more than 20 years later, when he teamed with Tariana Turia to establish and co-lead the Maori Party, for which he was a founding MP, in Auckland-based Maori seat Tamaki Makaurau, in 2005.

He was Minister of Maori Affairs in the National-led coalition Government from 2008 until his exit from Parliament last year.