Friday, 26 January 2024 - 10:01am

‘What a ride, what a journey, what a privilege’

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Group shot of Commissioner Andrew Coster, Deputy Commissioner Chris de Wattignar and Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha saluting.

Today (Friday 26 January) we say farewell to Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha, one of the architects of the transformation of relationships between Police and our communities. Here are some of the highlights of a long and influential career.

Wally Haumaha was a teacher with a burning desire to make a difference for Māori when he joined Police.

Forty years later he is retiring as Deputy Commissioner, and one of the architects of Police’s transformed relationships with iwi and other communities.

It’s a career which has put him ringside – and often in the ring – for many defining events in New Zealand’s recent history.

“I never imagined I’d still be here 40 years later,” he says.

“What a ride, what an awesome journey, what a privilege it has been to be part of the successes, the failures, the challenges, the changes.

“But most of all, I’m grateful for the honour it’s been to serve our country and the institution of policing.”

Wally tried to join Police as a teenager in 1970 but was too young. He came back in 1984, pictured right, after pursuing a teaching career and having travelled overseas with a Māori cultural group.

He graduated from Wing 89 and served in Rotorua until 2004, apart from a two-year break to help his family set up a retail business.

He worked frontline, CIB, as section supervisor, District Community Relations Coordinator and Māori Responsiveness Advisor – then in 2004 he was seconded to Police National Headquarters at inspector rank as Strategic Māori Advisor.

From its creation in 2007, he has helmed Māori Pacific and Ethnic Services (MPES), which became part of the new Iwi and Communities group, with Wally its Deputy Commissioner, in 2020.

“I’ve never relied on the orthodoxy of policing or traditional practices to achieve what some people would consider the unachievable,” he says.

Orthodox or not, his mahi has been officially recognised over the years – with Royal honours in 1997 (QSM) and 2017 (ONZM).

“My purpose, I believe, was to push the brown boundaries of Police, break the unbreakable and carve out innovative pathways and practices to achieve justice around fairness and equality.”

Wally's promotion to assistant commissioner in 2017 was celebrated at his home marae, Waiteti. 'If I never acknowledged where I come from... then I would be nothing'. 
Wally's promotion to assistant commissioner in 2017 was celebrated at his home marae, Waiteti. 'If I never acknowledged where I come from... then I would be nothing.'

Wally’s career and life are grounded in his roots.

He has been chair of the Ngāti Ngāraranui hapū marae, Waiteti, at Ngongotahā, Rotorua, for around 35 years. School board, rugby club, volunteer fire brigade – his community links run deep.

“It’s important to all of us where we come from,” he says. “If I never acknowledged where I come from within my hapū and within my whānau, then I would be nothing.

“What‘s kept me grounded and given me the energy to continue to push is when I look at my own whānau, my hapū, my iwi, and acknowledge there’s so much to do.”

He expressed the importance he places on whakapapa by compiling a book acknowledging the ancestors, alongside the refurbishment of the tupuna whare at Waiteti by craftspeople from Te Puia, the Māori arts and crafts institute.

It was a COVID-era partnership, funded by the Provincial Growth Fund, which benefitted both the hapū and the craftspeople and researchers who remained employed despite the restrictions.

In frontline policing, Wally often had to call upon his understanding of tikanga, for example in supporting a family facing the uplift of a loved one from their urupā. In leadership roles, he turned to kaumātua and kuia for guidance.

“I’ve been inspired by many great people, leaders both inside and outside Police, who helped shape the best version of me so I could support others to become the best version of themselves.”

He counts it a privilege to have worked alongside many activists and leaders “who fought against the Crown for the right of our people to live in fairness and equality.

“All those people were around us when things got really tough and they were the inspiration.”

Uncle Api - the late Dr Apirana Mahuika.

The late Dr Api Mahuika (pictured right) - author of the Police whakatauākī E tῡ ki te kei o te waka, kia pakia koe e ngā ngaru o te wā / Stand at the stern of the canoe and feel the spray of the future biting at your face - was a particular influence.

“When I wanted to become a district commander and go into a district and do my own thing, Uncle Api said: ‘No, we’ve got to have a voice in this organisation, at the top. It takes us at least 30 years in the public service before people understand where we’re at, so damn well stay there’.”

Wally cites a succession of transformational Police Commissioners, starting with Peter Doone who, at an event in 1996, proposed a toast to the Māori Queen.

“For me that was a breakthrough in terms of thinking differently.

"From there on, Peter Doone talked about how we had fallen short in our obligations and our commitments to Māori and the Treaty.”

A few years later came the start of annual Ngakia kia puawai conferences “bringing Police leadership together to understand the importance and significance of the Treaty… and that everyone was entitled to equality under the law and the service they would expect and deserve”.

Māori focus forums at national and district level extended this kōrero, bringing hugely influential community leaders into regular conversation with Police decision-makers. Since 2014, Pacific and ethnic forums have done the same.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with inspirational leaders from diverse backgrounds – and you’re all here today,” Wally said at his final meeting of the joint Māori, Pacific and Ethnic forums last month.

“You’ve provided me with guidance through good times and not so good times.”

On promotion to Deputy Commissioner Māori in 2018, Wally was presented with his new insignia – fittingly – at a meeting of the Commissioner’s Māori Focus Forum.

Then-Commissioner Mike Bush, a former Wing 89 wingmate, told the forum the appointment was “to give further mandate to the work he has championed for so many years – that you have all championed – to bring better outcomes for Māori”.

Wally was, he said, “relentless in that focus on behalf of our organisation and in terms of his partnerships”.

The 2004 foreshore and seabed hikoi - crossing Auckland Harbour Bridge; at Parliament; and Wally with organiser Moana Jackson. 
The 2004 foreshore and seabed hikoi - crossing Auckland Harbour Bridge; at Parliament; and Wally with organiser Moana Jackson.

Wally’s work has been shaped by many key moments in New Zealand history, with partnerships – formal and informal – to the fore.

In 2004, as Māori prepared to hikoi from Northland to Parliament in protest at changes to customary rights over the foreshore and seabed, Wally was sent north.

At a Whangārei marae he met activist Hone Harawira. Hone’s greeting was ‘Who the ****ing hell are you?’

“I said ‘I’m going to take you to Wellington and you’re going to follow me’. He said ‘OK, we’ll see if you’re any good’.”

Wally and four other Māori police led the hikoi south, gradually overcoming suspicion. When they reached Auckland, district colleagues were prepared for trouble.

“Crossing the Harbour Bridge was something I’ll never forget,” says Wally.

“The stories from our old people walking across that bridge, saying ‘We’ve got to do this for our mokopuna’."

There were no arrests among an estimated 40,000 people who joined the 13-day hikoi.

“At the end they asked us police if we’d go into the middle of the Parliament forecourt and close that hikoi with a karakia,” says Wally. Sergeant Paddy Whiu obliged.

“How can a police officer, amongst the turmoil and legislation and one of the biggest protests in the country, walk into the middle of that event and close it with a karakia?

“What does that tell us about how you manage events and manage relationships going forward?”

'The relationship has stood the test of time'. Wally with Tūhoe activist - and Operation Eight arrestee - Tame Iti at the opening of Taneatua Police Station in 2023. 
'The relationship has stood the test of time'. Wally with Tūhoe activist - and Operation Eight arrestee - Tame Iti at the opening of Taneatua Police Station in 2023.  

Relationships were strained to breaking point in 2007 when Operation Eight targeted suspicious activity in and around Ruatoki.

Tūhoe’s relationship with the Crown had long been fraught. The operation opened many old wounds, including the Police raid of Tūhoe prophet Rua Kenana’s Maungapohatu community by the Armed Constabulary in 1916.

In 2000, Wally and then-Commissioner Rob Robinson had visited Rua Kenana’s two surviving daughters. They told the Commissioner they couldn’t forget but needed to forgive “so promise us you will look after Tūhoe people in the future”.

In 2014, Police formally apologised for aspects of the execution of Operation Eight. “You can see, from 2007 to 2014, why building that relationship with Tūhoe was so important,” says Wally.

“There were so many discussions – how are we going to do this? How are we going to go back in there? What do we need to apologise for?

“The relationship has stood the test of time from there.”

The Christchurch earthquake of February 2011 provided a stern test of Police’s cultural competence, with people from many ethnicities among the victims.

Wally and his team enlisted religious and cultural leaders to speak to the bereaved in their own languages and overcame security concerns to arrange for family members to visit Burnham Camp, site of the temporary mortuary, to honour their loved ones.

“All 130-odd people who were there that day came and shook hands and hongi’d to us and said, ‘I now know why our children chose to come to this beautiful country’.

“It’s moments like that culturally which have inspired me to think, how can we do things differently in the organisation?”

Facing the media in unity with community leaders after the 2019 Christchurch terror attack. 
Facing the media in unity with community leaders after the 2019 Christchurch terror attack.

The 15 March 2019 terror attack – another Christchurch tragedy with victims from many backgrounds – was a further test of relationships.

Within hours of the attack, Wally and then-Inspector Rakesh Naidoo were in Christchurch facing a room of angry, grieving and traumatised people.

“What do you say? What do you say to these people who have just lost their loved ones? I look to the leadership and say, ‘You’re the leaders of this community, it’s time to stand up and be strong’.”

Pre-existing relationships with Muslim communities meant the team could call on support from influential leaders around the country and experts in Muslim practices around deaths and funerals.

Wally’s role included liaising with families and Muslim leaders over releasing victims’ bodies. Even with the complex Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) process, the first bodies were released on the fourth day after the attack, and all were released within a week.

“Worldwide, people were saying, ‘How did this happen so quickly?’ The cultural connection made this happen.”

Moments of history, run through with the threads of many cultures, have kept coming: Whakaari White Island, Ihumatao, COVID checkpoints, the Dawn Raids apology, through to the December Māori protests.

All such examples show the need to engage with iwi and other communities, says Wally.

“What’s important for Police now when events like this happen is that you’ve got a major iwi in every part of the country – as part of the consultation you must engage them from the outset.”

Wally with members of the joint Māori, Pacific and Ethnic forums, December 2023. 
Wally with members of the joint Māori, Pacific and Ethnic forums, December 2023.

Mutual understanding has become increasing important with the growing complexity of New Zealand society.

Many Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) have been signed, with iwi, with organisations such as the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand and Multicultural New Zealand.

In 2022, Wally hosted the first Tamil-Māori hui, at Waiteti Marae. Later he said: “How do we as a diverse nation come together and learn from each other rather than isolate ourselves?

"How do we get that diversity of thought appreciating the cultures that have come together in this nation? We do it through food, through kōrero and through occasions like this.”

Diversity of thought has informed the MPES mission. It is there in the kaupapa of Te Pae Oranga, bringing tikanga into resolutions for low-level offending by people of all ethnicities.

It has driven Police strategies – Working Together with Ethnic Communities; Te Huringa o te Tai/Turning of the Tide; O Le Taeao Fou/Dawn of a New Day – and led prevention in partnership with communities.

“At the start there were only three of us in the office,” says Wally. “From that we’ve grown to having people across the country.

“The difference we’ve made in terms of our operating language, our relationships and the roles we play, the workforce tikanga capabilities we’ve built, this is what’s important to us.”

'We can solve these issues together' - the new Iwi and Communities group takes flight in 2021. 
'We can solve these issues together' - the new Iwi and Communities group takes flight in 2021.

In March 2021 Iwi and Communities, a new entity bringing together MPES, community and prevention workgroups, was formally launched at PNHQ.

Wally – by then Deputy Commissioner Iwi and Communities – said it was driven by a desire to do better. “We can solve these issues together.”

Now, he says: “We’ve built a career pathway from frontline constable through the ranks of sergeant, senior sergeant, inspector, superintendent, right up to Assistant Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.

“Of course, my aspiration is that one day we’ll get someone through to the position of Commissioner.”

That work will be someone else’s from now as Wally bows out.

“I can’t believe how quickly it has gone,” he says. “But it’s right to call time and say thank you to the selfless, tireless and courageous men and women I’ve worked alongside.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not going to miss my Police whānau.

“There are many people who have left an ineradicable mark on my heart, and I am proud and grateful for the friendship and camaraderie, the laughs, the tears, the joys, the sadness throughout my time.

“As our dear kaumātua Uncle Api used to say, E tῡ ki te kei o te waka, kia pakia koe e ngā ngaru o te wā – loosely translated as ‘in the face of adversity have the strength and the courage to carry on’.”