By DAVID HILL
Aroha Reriti-Crofts admits she was “flabbergasted” when she learned she was to become a dame.
The Tuahiwi and Waimakariri District Council kaumatua was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DNZM) in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to Maori and the community.
“I was flabbergasted when I got the letter telling me I had been nominated. But everyone is so excited and I’m so pleased for everyone,” Dame Aroha says.
“We are all kind of hilariously happy. My whanau didn’t know about it because the letter said I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, so I didn’t. My children said come you didn’t tell us mum?’.”
Dame Aroha says she “had a wonderful childhood” at Tuahiwi, growing up as part of an extended whanau.
“We grew up very closely related to each other and after school we would be playing around the pa. We were known as the pa kids.”
As a 7-year-old, Dame Aroha remembers being part of the Tuahiwi contingent performing kapa haka on the wharf in Wellington to welcome the Maori Battalion home from World War 2.
“We were there with hundreds of other people from other iwi and then we came home on the train and welcomed home our Ngai Tahu soldiers.
“Amid the excitement, we also remembered those who didn’t come home, so it was both very exciting and very sad.”
She later attended classes as an adult student at Aranui High School in Christchurch and went on to teachers’ college, becoming a primary school teacher.
She helped to revive a kapa haka festival in Christchurch and from humble beginnings, it has grown into a major annual event.
“There were three of us Maori teachers and that was the beginning of the kapa haka festival in Christchurch. We had three or four schools in the first year and now they have thousands of kids and it takes two to three days.”
Dame Aroha joined the Maori Women’s Welfare League’s Otautahi (Christchurch) branch in 1968 and went on to become national and international president from 1990 to 1993.
“When I became president in 1990 we had branches in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hawaii and London.”
During her time as president she visited Maori and other indigenous peoples in Hawaii, Los Angeles, Vancouver and London.
In 1993 she received a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) “and that was awesome”.
“To be invited to accept that nomination, little old me from Tuahiwi, and now they want me to be a dame.
“You don’t do these things on your own, you do it as part of a team.”
She became the Waimakariri District Council’s kaumatua a few years ago, following the passing of her brother Jono Crofts.