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Hooked on Māori

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Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson is an author, businessperson, professional director, gardener and mother of two. Senior writer Mary Anne Gill caught up with her after she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours for her services to governance and Māori.

Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson

She has a five metre inflatable boat with an outboard motor and puts it out into Kāwhia Harbour.

Tania Simpson calls the boat her little leisure tripper, something she and her friends can hop into, pull up in nearby bays, have a picnic and go fishing.

It is an escape from the corporate world of governance which has been her norm for more than 25 years.

Tania Simpson on her boat in Kāwhia Harbour. Photo: Supplied.

“Kāwhia is like a big papakāinga. There’s a lot of family and friends out there.”

When you look at the long list of boards and organisations she is and was involved with, it is a fair bet the opportunities for relaxing in Kāwhia are rare.

Tania Simpson

Simpson, 58, who has a bach in Kāwhia but lives in Matangi, was born in Ōtorohanga, grew up in Te Kūiti – where she attended the high school – before leaving to study languages at Waikato University.

Her father, a Pākehā, was a diesel mechanic in Te Kūiti and later opened a woodturning factory. Her Māori mother’s tribal affiliations were Tainui, Ngāi Tahu and Ngā Puhi.

Accepting the Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours for her services to governance and Māori from King Charles was a nice acknowledgement of her Pākehā side, she says.

Ten years ago, Kīngi Tuheitia awarded her the rank of Commander in the Order of the Taniwha, a tikanga-based honour system he set up to celebrate the efforts of Māori.

It was her father who encouraged she and her late brother to speak Māori at home. He grew up in a predominantly Māori community while her mother grew up in a similar environment in Ōtorohanga.

“At dinner he would generally tell us in Māori to pass the bread and butter, potatoes, salt and pepper. So, it just seemed normal.”

He was thrilled when she went to Waikato University to study languages but worried when she changed her major from Japanese to Māori as he was concerned it might not lead to employment. At that time, in the mid-1980s, there were not many options other than to teach the language at schools.

Simpson had hoped languages would open the door to international travel but once she started studying Māori, she was hooked.

She quickly discovered an interest and passion for the language, the history, its traditions and the Treaty of Waitangi.

In 1988, after her graduation from the Māori department, she undertook translations of the letters the university had in its Bishop George Selwyn collection.

The letters were written in Māori and sent from 1842 to 1872 to Bishop Selwyn, who spoke the language fluently.

Simpson’s work was substantial and formed the basis of the comprehensive and historical background to the letters in the collection.

Chancellor Sir Anand Satyanand, Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson and Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley in 2020 when Simpson was honoured. Photo: University of Waikato.

Her next job was with the Housing Corporation which had offices around the country helping Māori to build on their land and to construct kaumātua housing on marae.

She worked as an advisory officer out of the Hamilton branch and in 1989 moved to manage the Te Kūiti office covering Ōtorohanga, Te Awamutu and the rest of the King Country.

In 1992 she joined Te Puni Kōkiri in Wellington as a policy analyst with secondments to the Office of Treaty Settlements and an Auckland merchant bank.

She founded Kōwhai Consulting Ltd in 1995, and moved to Waitomo where her son and daughter were born. Now in their 20s, they work at Pūniu River Care a marae-based river care group near Te Awamutu and at Te Nehenehenui Trust in Te Kūiti, the post settlement governance entity for Maniapoto.

Kōwhai was a Waikato based group of consultants advising on Māori business, environment, education and culture.

“I identified pretty early that I did want to work in governance,” she says.

“That’s where I felt I was best positioned in terms of my skill set and my interests.”

What followed were appointments to various boards and trusts.

“I like to do things related to my tribes and other things related to governance.”

But even she was surprised when she went on the Reserve Bank board in 2014 – the first Māori director. She went on to become deputy chair before stepping down two years ago.

“I told them I was not an economist. They felt they had enough economists around the table and they wanted someone with more of a grassroots perspective.

“If you have too many of the same people, you’re getting too much of the same stuff.”

Simpson loves what she does.

“Everyone knows my space is around iwi relationships and ensuring being that voice at the table can help the organisation think about how to engage well and effectively and where the mutual gains from having a mutually beneficial relationship are. There’s a lot to be gained.

“It doesn’t feel like work. It just feels really interesting spaces to be. It’s diverse, I get to go in all kinds of spaces that’s meaningful for me.”

Like the Waitangi Tribunal. She sits on the health subcommittee which is part way through a Health Services and Outcomes inquiry.

She is also on the Meridian Energy board as an independent director. Her mother was affiliated to Ngāi Tahu who work with Meridian on projects in the South Island around green energy.

Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson. Photo: Supplied

Simpson’s passion for research and writing resulted 10 years ago in a book on her Ngāi Tahu great grandfather called The Last Maopo – the Life and First World War Sacrifice of Wiremu Maopo.

It was published to mark the centenary of the start of World War I. Wiremu, who died in 1929, was unaware his girlfriend Phoebe had given birth to a daughter. The book reconnected the Maopo line with Simpson.

Now she is working on her Pākehā grandmother’s memoirs and later this year will travel to Scotland – she also has English heritage – to gather more information.

She looks surprised when The Business News ask whether she has any plans to slow down when she turns 60 in May next year.

No way, she says. She will keep directorships like Waste Management, Meridian and Auckland Airport and possibly pick up more while continuing her work on the Waitangi Tribunal and the Waitangi National Trust.

The garden on her small Matangi block still has a lot of area which needs developing too.

Already in are a multitude of vegetables and fruit trees plus there are a couple of toys – a robot mower and a ride on. There is also a bicycle which she hopes to get more use on.

“I enjoy all that sort of stuff, it’s a good counterbalance to work.

“My focus is really just being there for my kids, even though they’re in their 20s and they have their own lives, I want to be as supportive as I can.”

And with a new coalition government raising issues around all things Māori which it says reflects communities’ views, Simpson feels she is in a position to contribute to the debate citing her work on the Waitangi Tribunal.

“It brings the tribunal into sharper focus. It is the Treaty conversation. We have the ability to put out reports that influence decisions.”

That, says Simpson, is where her core interests lie – improving the lives of Māori.

See: Matangi professional director honoured

See: Waikato alumna receives award

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About Author

Mary Anne Gill

Putāruru-born Mary Anne Gill is one of Waikato’s most experienced communications and public relations practitioners. She has won several national writing gongs including three times at the Qantas and twice at the Voyager media awards.