Police honours first Māori woman officer

Police honours first Māori woman officer

Police joined whānau members to pay tribute at the tangi for Evelyn Kingi, New Zealand’s first female Māori constable, who died last week aged 96.

She was Evelyn Owen, from Moerewa in the Far North, when she joined the third intake of women at the Police training base in Wellington in 1943.

Northland District Commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou and Far North Area Commander Inspector Riki Whiu spoke at the tangi at Maungarongo Marae, Poroti, near Whangārei, on Sunday.

Also present were Whangārei/Kaipara Area Commander Inspector Justin Rogers, and Senior Sergeant Anne Marie Fitchett, who helped organise Northland’s celebrations of the 75th anniversary of women in policing in 2016.

Russell, who spoke on behalf of Commissioner Mike Bush, says Evelyn’s family remains proud of her association with Police.

“The point was made that she was part of the Police family, which was greatly appreciated,” he says.

“We honour our history and she was a big part of our history as our first female Māori police officer.”

Russell presented Evelyn’s whānau with a copy of the book Tact and Tenacity: New Zealand Women in Policing, in which Evelyn appears a number of times.

Riki says it was a privilege to attend, made more so by the knowledge that he was related to Evelyn – who he described as a woman of resilience and character - and from the same small town.

“Our attending the tangi meant as much to her whānau as it did to us,” he says. “It confirmed to them, in particular her mokopuna, that their nana did something really great and joined New Zealand Police to serve her people.

“It was an honour to remind her whānau that New Zealand Police had not forgotten her.

“Kaati ra e te tupuna whaea, ngaro atu koe ki o iwi o te po, moe mai, oki atu ra - therefore our respected elder, vanish into the midst of your people of the night, rest peacefully.”

Assistant Commissioner Wally Haumaha, Deputy Chief Executive Māori, says Police honoured Evelyn as a pioneer for both Māori and women in an organisation whose attitudes reflected the social norms of the day.

“We can only imagine how difficult it would have been for her, not only as a woman in a male-dominated organisation, but also as a Māori at a time when many people did not self-identify as Māori,” he says.

“She would have had to battle every barrier to come through and maintain respect.

“The culture of policing has changed to allow people to be rich in their own culture. People like Evelyn really opened the door.”

After training Evelyn was posted to Auckland but also saw service in the capital.

In Tact and Tenacity, author Valerie Redshaw describes an operation in which female officers including Evelyn helped collar an Australian visitor to Wellington who was making filthy phone calls.

Evelyn’s career did not survive Police’s 1940s restrictions around marriage: after three years in the job she married – without permission – and resigned. She continued to serve her community, however, later becoming a Justice of the Peace.

Marie Storey, who was also in the 1943 intake, says Evelyn was an enthusiastic presence at their reunions. She last saw her in 1997 at the funeral of their fellow third-intaker Nora Crawford.

“Evelyn was a very loyal person,” says Marie. “She wasn’t in Police very long but I appreciated the fact that she always kept in touch with the rest of us. She was a good friend while we were training and over the years.”

Police said goodbye to another veteran officer over the summer with the passing of former Sergeant George Wells at the age of 97 in Greytown on 2 January.

In 1964 George, who served in the infantry in World War Two, commanded New Zealand Police’s first contingent to the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. Fellow Cyprus veterans visited him in 2014 when he was unable to attend their 50th anniversary reunion.

George’s coffin was draped in a Police flag at his funeral on 4 January. George is pictured in 2014 and in his Cyprus days.