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Renaissance man: Mike Rewi's part of the next generation helping to bridge the gap between his iwi, Ngai Tahu, and other stakeholders

Born-and-bred Queenstowner Mike Rewi’s fitting of the ‘renaissance man’ label. A long-
time Wakatipu Prems rugby winger, he’s dabbled in a music career, but he tells HUGH COLLINS he now spends as much time as he can volunteering with his iwi, Ngai Tahu

Mike Rewi’s a man on a mission.

The born-and-bred Queenstowner — who still sports the Waka colours during the Premiers
rugby season — is following in his whanau’s footsteps and doing his bit to ensure his
ancestors aren’t forgotten.

Rewi, a Wakatipu High School graduate, once studied to be a music producer, even
going on to pursue it as a career in the United States.

Working with rappers and R&B singers in the San Francisco Bay Area, he talks of recording one artist who had been shot five times in a gang-related shooting.

Subsequently, “one of his guys” had to watch over Rewi when visiting a convenience store between recording sessions.

“Some cool experiences, for sure,” he grins.

But a number of factors brought Rewi, 27, and his fiancee, Lizzy Wallace-Gibbs, home to the resort.

He’s working as a business manager for a health and safety company in Frankton, but
beyond that he’s dedicating a huge chunk of his time to volunteering with his iwi, Ngai
Tahu.

With a wealth of knowledge around his whakapapa, Rewi’s lineage extends back to
Murihiku (Southland) where his great grandfather, George Te Au, established the first marae in Invercargill.

“I guess I’ve always had a passion for it and saw it in my dad [Darren Rewi] and just
trying to replicate that.”

He’s aiming to bring a bit of “youth” to some of the decisions and relationships between iwi and stakeholders.

“I guess historically there hasn’t been great relationships at times.

‘‘And so how can we come in and bridge that gap?”

What is clear is that Rewi’s always had a heart for people and a generous spirit.

In 2016, he was part of a group who founded the Baby Box charity alongside then-mayor Vanessa van Uden.

To this day it gives a box of gifts to every new mum in the resort.

And this year, with Covid-19 wreaking havoc in the Wakatipu, Rewi’s been working hard
to ensure his people aren’t going without the basics.

“For a long time our Maori community here has been put under the umbrella of all of
Queenstown.

‘‘So they all think we’re wealthy, well-off Maori people.

‘‘But the reality is we’re not — we’re working these jobs that are affected by Covid.”

In collaboration with the Ministry of Primary Industries and Te Puni Kokiri, his iwi has
been working to provide aid packages to those facing losses during the pandemic.

Maori MP Rino Tirikatene has even inspired Rewi and Ngai Tahu to start a charitable trust called Mana Tahuna.

“What that’s going to be aimed towards is providing the reskilling, redevelopment, redeployment of our people, as well as some mental health kaupapa [policy] and hauora
[Maori philosophy of health and wellbeing].

‘‘How do we wrap that around our people and make sure they’re strong and fit mentally to carry on in a post-Covid world?”

As a district with a dominant Pakeha population, Rewi says there hasn’t always been a
natural mentality for locals to engage with iwi.

“It’s not that they’re racist, it’s just that it’s never been considered, ‘oh, you know what, we need to talk to iwi about this’ or, ‘we should collaborate with iwi’.

“Where my ancestors were, there’s a Hilton now … that’s not a problem, but it’s something you’ve got to think about when you talk about Europeans coming in and taking ancestral
land.”

However, he says there is an increasing interest in tikanga (culture) in the district, particularly at Wakatipu High — the school now has its own waiata (Maori song).

“Times have definitely changed from 10 years ago when I was there.”

Looking ahead, Rewi says he would love to see a marae established in Queenstown.

“A place we can all come in, use and gather like we used to.

“All other cities have a marae that Maori can go to and be together … so that’s what
we’re trying to achieve here.

“Once we have that, it will organically just create relationships with businesses that want
to reach out.”

ed@scene.co.nz