Regional | Māori

A man of the people

Norman Dewes, a prominent community leader in Christchurch, has died, aged 78.

Norman Dewes, a prominent community leader in Christchurch, has died, aged 78.

Norm, as he was known, was of Ngāti Kahungunu descent and grew up in Wairoa. He was 15 years old when he went to Christchurch under the Māori trade training scheme, eventually becoming a foundry worker and a unionist.

He was a co-founder and former CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngā Mātāwaka, the Christchurch Urban Māori Authority that was set up in 1989. Kaumātua Hohua Tutengaehe (Ngāi Te Rangi) wanted Norm to lead the organisation that catered to the needs of ‘taura here’, those people from other iwi who had made the city their home.

Norm started by employing the unemployed and sometimes the ‘unemployable’—those with few skills or qualifications—to run the rūnanga. Then he set up courses in life skills, driver education, music, and audio-sound engineering—the stuff that appealed to many Māori. This expanded over the 25 years he was at its helm to include a bilingual early childhood centre, a mentoring programme to encourage kids to stay in school, counselling and health services, sport and recreation, employment initiatives, and legal support.

Ngā Hau e Whā marae in Christchurch also came under the wing of the rūnanga in 2004. Norm cleaned up its financial problems and put it back on track. After the 2011 Canterbury earthquake, the marae hosted up to 27 displaced organisations that supported recovery work.

“Norm was an essential partner to Ngāi Tahu during the years following the earthquake, ever-present and working hard for anyone in need,” Justin Tipa, the CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu said.

The South Island Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, Te Pūtahitanga, appointed Norm as its chairman in 2014. He was also a member of the Ngāi Tahu Iwi-Māori Partnership Board, Te Tauraki, tasked with finding better ways to improve Māori health in Te Waipounamu.

He was a man of the people, especially the underprivileged and disadvantaged in Christchurch.

“I just love working and helping people,” he told Stuff when he became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016.

“One of the biggest motivators has been that while I’ve had some lucky breaks, there have been many people around me in the community who have not been so lucky. Just simply seeing them go through those difficult times in life, you ask yourself why, because some of us just seem to know exactly what is needed to correct it.”

He won a few awards too but always placed himself within a larger group of recipients.

“There have been so many people who have driven me... to build the character that I am,” Norm said at a ceremony where he and his partner Linda Ngata received the Pou Here Tangata award from Te Pūtea Whakatupu Trust, a $20 million organisation managing fisheries assets for urban Māori.

“I met up with Ngā Mātāwaka, who have been instrumental in shaping me and are growling at me for not listening to them. But they are the ones who are doing the work on the ground. They are the ones who are getting the results of what we’re striving to achieve.”

The tangi for Norman Dewes is being held at Ngā Hau e Wha Marae. His body will then be returned to his whānau in Wairoa.