National | Crown

First CEO from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi

Darrio Penetito-Hemara is a product of kura kaupapa Māori who has risen to be appointed chief executive of Toi Tangata - the only Māori organisation in the public health nutrition and physical activity sector.

He wasn’t a typical “haka freak" at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi. In fact Penetito-Hemara said he was the total opposite. But he does admit haka was the highest level of his physical activity, which has helped shape him into an advocate for hauora interventions.

But te ao hākinakina is more his forte in the hauora arena. He was a representative for NZ Kiwi tag blacks football at the 2018 World Cup and a representative player for Auckland touch rugby and Waitākere basketball.

"Kua tae ki te tihi I tēnei wā (pleased to be scaling new heights)," Penetito-Hemara says.

At 32, now the youngest ever appointed as Toi Tangata chief executive,  he spent the last six years in a leadership role for the agency. He incorporated kaupapa that included He Pī Ka Rere, which was introduced into kōhanga reo across Aotearoa. It is a project led by Toi Tangata to get tamariki engaged in kori (movement) and kai (nutrition) through traditional methods like Atua Māori mythologies

"He Pī Ka Rere is one model for early learners to have regular physical activities from a cultural sense that coincides with their reo development."

Now, Penetito-Hemara hopes his new role will cast a wider net to achieve health outcomes by “supporting iwi" to develop their own nutrition and physical activity strategy.

He supports the government's plan to establish an independent voice for Māori in the health sector. That independent voice has been called for by many Maori and the Waitangi Tribunal has also recommended it to the government. An authority could address inequities that statistically impact on Māori - who either die seven years earlier than non-Māori or are two-and-a-half times more likely to die from diseases that are potentially preventable.

But he says "every iwi needs their own sustainable plan rather than a strategy that suits all."  That's something Penetito-Hemara was taught at kura kaupapa Māori which supports tauira to have a depth of understanding for their own cultural identity, no matter which iwi they belong to.