Many metaphors accurately describe Ekara, from the language of his ancestors, a ‘totara haemata’ (strong-growing totara), to the words of a Tertiary Education Union spokesperson, a ‘resolute rock’. Other figurative language such as ‘still waters run deep’ is also appropriate.
In totara terms he stood tall as Lincoln University’s sole Kaitakawaenga, Māori and Pacific Outreach Coordinator, a rangatira in that respect, appointed in 2009 initially with the Marketing and Communications Group, later to become LincolnConnect. Earlier this year he joined the group headed by the then Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori and Communities, Dr Charlotte Severne.
Also like a totara, he grew strongly throughout his life in personal terms. This growth was through people-related work in welfare, youth justice, violence prevention, community agencies, business (he was a tourist operator for eight years in the Fiordland National Park area), and above all through the nurturing food of education.
Of Rakaipaaka/Ngati Kahungunu descent, he was the only one of his 14 siblings to gain a university degree. Enrolling at Lincoln University in his mature years, Ekara graduated Bachelor of Māori Planning and Development in 2007, then completed an Honours year, graduating BMP&D (Hons) in 2008. At the time of his death he was planning to embark on a Masters degree project.
As a student he was Tumuaki (President) of the Lincoln University Māori Students Association (Te Awhioraki) and was on the executive of the Lincoln University Students’ Association. He was also a Residential Assistant in the halls.
Armed with his degrees, Ekara became a contract lecturer in the Māori Studies group at Lincoln University in 2009, then won the position of Māori Outreach Coordinator.
As Kaitakawaenga he was involved in a huge variety of initiatives to further the participation of Māori in tertiary education in general and at Lincoln University in particular. The Whenua Kura programme was close to his heart, and he keenly pursued establishing links between Lincoln University and a part of Aotearoa he knew well from his younger days, northern Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa. The Sir Turi Carroll Life & Legacy Workshops event in Wairoa in 2015 was one of his cherished projects, as was the series of Sir Turi Carroll Memorial Lectures at Lincoln University, for which he hosted both the Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court Wilson Isaac and Mana Party Leader and Member of Parliament Hone Harawira.
The Tertiary Education Union’s description of Ekara as a ‘resolute rock defending his people’ refers to his lifelong advocacy of union values. Specifically within the TEU he was one of its senior Māori leaders serving nationally on Te Uepu, Te Toi Ahurangi, the Tiriti Partnership Group and the Industrial and Professional Committee. At Lincoln University he was TEU branch vice-president and applied himself to raising the profile of Māori staff in the union and on campus. He was made a TEU Life Member in 2015 and described as a champion of the worker, Māori and the union movement.
Still waters indeed run deep, and in Ekara’s case few would know of his numerous quiet contributions to Māori and Lincoln University and to youth work in general in the community, in addition to his more high profile activity. Here are three examples from many: at Lincoln University he worked with Student Services to set up a dedicated Māori desk at registration; in the wider community he was appointed by the Government to help develop a national policy on volunteering and assist with establishing the Volunteer New Zealand organisation; and as a trained facilitator he helped develop a violence prevention programme delivered in intermediate and secondary schools.