Kapa Haka in Australia

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Along with thousands of others, attending Te Matatini was just not possible for us. However, experiencing the wairua of Te Matatini with a lump in throat and involuntary tears running unashamedly, I was moved and proud. I watched on my computer at work, on my phone on the bus and streamed online at church. I am now compelled to share a view of the state of our revered art form in Australia from both a Sydney and Australian perspective. I want to discuss the Australian view to expose to the daylight an ugly and silently festering ulcer that prevails unfettered by good sense, justice and strong social norms. I do this in the hope that the day looms closer that maturity and clear sense takes precedence and will rid us of this pestilence. I share the Poihakena view in the hope of painting a good landscape that can become a great one.

Having conversations with kapa veteran performers in Australia and Aotearoa, I know others share similar views. It is overwhelmingly clear that change must come before progress can be made. For Poihakena and Australia to even dream of greatness. Unfortunately, change is opposed from within some kapa haka committees. Usually, this signals upheaval and short term loss costing rank and file members. If this were a corporation, it would be said, what is required is forward planning, progressive change management, careful succession planning, visionary goal setting and project management skills to mitigate operational performance.


Poihakena competing roopu in 2013 were focused on internal struggles to form cohesive teams, fundraise for uniforms and compose items of a quality to impress Matatini judges. Their pressure was coming from within and focusing on external matters. The NSW Maori Performing Arts Inc. (NSWMPA) were dealing with an issue that wasn’t on the roopu immediate radar which yet had the ability to jepordize their standing as competing roopu. More about that later on.

Te Raranga Whanui, made up of roopuu from within Poihakena, made the biggest impact upon kapa haka in Poihakena in recent times. In my view, not because they won a spot at Te Matatini but because they collaborated. Vicky and Wi Wehi, and Wilson Poha among others were co-opted (through te Wananga O Aotearoa) to lift kapa to the levels in the eighties when Muriwai led Te Huinga Waka. The fallout however, is a lingering disharmony, a result of Te Raranga Whanui bringing Maori together in Poihakena under one umbrella to compete as a separate entity. This is normal for all groups, it’s called progressing through the forming, storming and norming stages. Individuals (right or wrong) felt compromised and withdrew, sometimes bringing others away with them. Many times unrest was causing more unrest amongst the ranks (this is called the mourning stage). Historically, groups temporarily weaken during this process. With positive support from family and community Te Raranga Whanui can recover — as have the many diverse work and community groups whose histories these theories are based on — find internal strengths, and carve out their own brand of kapa haka.

In 2014 in Poihakena, Iti Rearea was the other group that achieved past expectations. Managing to come together with more than 50 kids is a feat in itself. Actually excelling whilst dealing with the trials of changing tutors, forming committee and fundraising, is a testament to the passionate community support keeping kapa haka alive for kids in Australia.

The most recently elected NSWMPA committee was made up of volunteers loyal to kapa haka. As an incorporated association the rules were straightforward; tghe goal to administer and support kapa haka in Poihakena. Previously, NSW had made a successful bid to host the National Kapa Haka Competition. The task was therefore for the elected committee to host the event in 2014.

This is about as cheery as it gets: going into it felt like an opening scene from a Clint Eastwood western. An old rickety town signpost swings as a welcome to the incoming committee. Eight years of unpaid dust-covered bills for un-submitted mandatory reports. I mean no disrespect to any past committee members, this is no witch-hunt. When the community doesn’t support a community organization, there really isn’t the impetus or rationale to continue. Which is what a ghost town is, a place with no community or sense of one.

The incoming committee was enthusiastic, skilled and experienced in many facets befitting a group tasked with the organization of the Australian National Kapa Haka competition. The project management skills of Pearl Pickering in pulling the event together illustrated activities and tasks down to minute areas. Regular meetings were conducted with our chair having full support of the committee and members able to video conference in saving valuable travel time. Pearl negotiated a fantastic deal with Sydney Olympic Park and energy of the committee was focused towards raising the level of professionalism within kapa haka and to a wider range of audience within Australia. Enter the politics.

One of the expectations was that a member of the NSW committee, was to be “elected” to sit as a delegate on the governing body of kapa haka in Australia, Nga Kapa Taumata Teitei (NKTT). We were advised however, that NKTT had the power to veto an elected delegate from representing their committee should they see fit. We were also advised by NKTT, when our delegate later resigned from the NSW committee, that the delegate would still be representing NSW and would work directly with the competing roopu and liaise with NKTT.


As a member of New South Wales Maori Performing Arts I was privy to the operational activity of Nga Taumata Teitei the Australia committee charged with organizing and operating national kapa haka operations. Many times during my tenure I was absolutely repulsed by the devious, dubious and downright disgusting behaviour of some within the NKTT committee. The committee held their organisation’s AGM practically in secret — certainly no NSWMPA members had been invited or even informed about the AGM. This allowed chair Issac Cotter (JP) to remain unopposed.

NKTT antics included instead calling NSWMPA committee to attend “a catch up meeting” with NKTT with less than 24 hours notice. The majority of our committee attended. Having promised my family that I would take them to the beach, I took them along intending a beach trip after the meeting. We discovered at the meeting that it was the occasion of the NKTT AGM – to which AGM we had not been invited nor informed about. What was that about elected committee members becoming NKTT delegates again?

A “deed” had been prepared (allegedly the previous night) and was tabled for NSWMPA to immediately sign. The demand that we “must sign” was made throughout the meeting. Having read the document during the meeting (noting several spelling mistakes, syntax errors and irrelevant content), it read much more as a narrative of past relationships between NKTT and other state and territory hosts than agreement of terms to a contract.

The deed was passed to our committee with the full knowledge and blessing of one of our elected committee members Lucy Martin, who was delegate to NKTT. Apparently under the NKTT constitution the elected NSWMPA delegate position automatically provided that person a position as a voting member of NKTT. How an elected member of a committee can vote on matters in another different organisation to bind the committee without consultation or a vote within the committe itself is well beyond my comprehension, however this is what took place. In the under-24 hours of NSWMPA being invited to the “catch up meeting” with allusions to it being the AGM some time after greetings and welcomes, NKTT had voted that a deed be put to NSWMPA with the intent that we immediately sign and heed to the direction of NKTT. Mind boggles.

The general content of the document provided that NKTT would for all intents and purposes direct and manage the Australian National Kapa Haka competitions while NSWMPA would hold all liability and cost. As treasurer at that time, the area that made me smile was where the document deemed NKTT would also handle and control all finances including those of NSWMPA.

At that meeting, Issac Cotter kindly did allow the committee a few moments to discuss it amongst ourselves, however continually restated his position that the document must be signed. Very graciously we were given an opportunity to go through the document with the NKTT committee and raise matters of concern to NSWMPA. The deed was restated as a “memorandum of understanding” upon further negotiation and once again Issac Cotter demanded (this time menancingly) that we sign their agreement. The matter that I raised was duress in signing and only then were we granted a further 24 hours to consider and sign. After 3-4 hours of being at what was supposed to be a quick meeting, my family became restless and we left. I’ve decided to leave out the part where Issac insulted my family, at which my wife quite rightly took offense.

Some days later we were directed via email not to pass the document to any other person.

We did not sign the document in the 24 hours we had been given, nor ever. Our emails and requests for information were not responded to. Despite promises to the contrary, our concerns were not addressed. The document’s contents were apparently non-negotiable. It became apparent to us that our work in preparing for the Australian Nationals had been futile. The event was to be very different from what we had envisaged. We were no longer involved in organising it. Our requests to clarify this position also went without any response. NKTT sought to take over a previously negotiated agreement between NSWMPA and a service provider by simply stepping into the shoes NSWMPA. However again, NKTT was to take on the management but not the liability. When this bid failed, Issac Cotter (JP) contacted the provider directly in an effort to enquire about previous arrangements made, possibly to reclaim for himself the deal that Pearl had worked tirelessly to secure.

The NSWMPA AGM (to which, unlike the NKTT AGM, invites were broadcast) was held at Te Wairua Tapu. It was on this day once again that Issac Cotter stated that we as members of NSWMPA committee acted fraudulently in making a representation on behalf of NKTT without their permission. The fact that their name was on a document had no direct bearing on any financial implications and the question required NSWMPA to submit names of groups who would likely support the event. At the meeting I personally asked Issac Cotter to cease and desist in his comments. Issac Cotter also stated that the entire committee of NSWMPA was incompetent and needed to step down. It was no secret that Issac Cotter had a personal issue with NKTT chair Wayne Prentice.

The NKTT delegate resigned from NSWMPA. We elected another delegate who was never ackgnowledged as one by NKTT. Instead, the resignee continued to attend NKTT meetings, pass on information to and liaise with select groups in NSW. Our committee was increasingly left out of the loop.

Over a period of months, NSWMPA repeatedly requested a copy of the NKTT constitution. When we finally did get a copy it was via another source. In reading this document it was quite clear to us that NKTT had breached their own constitution, namely via the following clauses:

That NKTT acted in contravention of the NKTT Constitution specifically but not limited to the areas of its mission statement by:

  1. Failure to “foster, develop and encourage greater community integration” by:
    1. failure to understand and address the concerns of MPANSW
    2. failure to respond within a reasonable time to emails,
    3. Objects, by
    4. f) failing to “maintain relationships…” the chair as a representative of and with the permission and knowledge of the NKTT committee
    5. by refusing to discuss matters with MPANSW
    6. promoting a negative relationship with the MPANSW chair
    7. requesting at a public meeting that the entire MPANSW committee step down due to incompetence
    8. by proliferating at a public meeting that the MPANSW committee was knowingly involved in and actually conducted fraud
    9. by stating at a committee meeting that MPANSW committee was knowingly involved in and actually conducted fraud
    10. by continuing to accuse MPANSW of the act of fraud after a cease and desist request was made


3). failing to “advance strong governance…” by;

  1. Inviting MPANSW to attend a meeting after the NKTT AGM, one day before the event.
  2. Refusing MPANSW an opportunity to be involved in the NKTT AGM
  3. Providing a Deed at a meeting and request that the Deed be considered immediately
  4. Give consideration to MPANSW in regards to the Deed only on the day
  5. Insist that MPANSW sign the Deed although duress was cited
  6. Changing the Deed to a MOU
  7. Demanding with menace that the MOU be signed immediately
  8. Allowing the document to be furnished with spelling mistakes, syntax errors and structural anomolies
  9. failure to respond within a reasonable time to emails,
  1. failing to advance “quality performances…” by:
  2. failing to allow MPANSW elected delegate to perform duties by refusing to allow recognition of the MPANSW delegate thereby limiting the timely flow of information to MPANSW members
  3. Allowing other competitive groups access to information before MPANSW thereby positioning MPANSW groups at a disadvantage
  4. k) failing to “maintain and protect..”
  5. as above in i) a, b


Part 2, 4 (1)That MPANSW was able to vote a member of MPANSW onto another association’s committee without the knowledge of that person or MPANSW however with the full knowledge and understanding of NKTT.

That NKTT agreed at public meetings to furnish MPANSW with a copy of the NKTT constitution.

That NKTT refused to furnish MPANSW with their constitution when repeatedly questioned on this issue.

That MPANSW had no knowledge of the constitution and in particular Part 2, 4(1), (2) was unable to comply with this and have a newly elected MPANSW delegate accepted in order to “foster, develop and encourage…”


  1. Cessation of membership –

That at the cessation and resignation of membership, a former MPANSW delegate was held up as maintaining the position of member, while the current elected delegate remained unacknowledged.


  1. Fees and subscriptions

That the MPANSW delegate paid a sum of $100 that was held up as an annual membership fee for MPANSW to become and/or maintain its membership with NKTT and in doing so qualify to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities that comes with that membership.


  1. Right of appeal of a disciplined member

That MPANSW was denied the right as a member of disciplinary appeal.




For kapa haka to evolve in Poihakena groups need to collaborate better, mature and lead members to become better community members. Kapa Haka like Hillsong Church is evangelical, it raises our wairua (albeit in a real way) and we have fun reaching the 5 and 6 part harmonies, acing intricate choreography and singing about issues that appease our atua and tipuna while showing our tamariki – this is what hard work and dedication can do. Synchronise, harmonise and inspire.


For Australia, like any growing organization – it must get the deadwood out. Fa too often good people have sat on their hands and accepted behaviour indicative of NKTT.

The vision that NSWMPA saw is simple – to host Nationals in Poihakena while raising the level of administrative and performance professionalism. Why not put a bid in to host Te Matatini in Australia?


I understand that there are many issues relating to kapa haka both in Poihakena and Australia. The groups are evolving, it was comforting to see Te Toi O Nga Rangi arrive on the scene in Sydney for the Australia Kapa Haka Competition. There is still more they can do to reach out to members and collaborate with other groups.


Nga Kapa Taumata Teitei need to change drastically or fold. An organizations tasked with overseeing national operations of Kapa Haka in Australia that can not operate by its own rules, as a starting point I would be looking at the head of the organization. Continuing on I would be asking the question of all of members of the group – “do you have the best interests of kapa haka in mind?” If the answer is yes then the second question to the group is, “how could you let the chair of the organization conduct himself in such a way whilst representing the group?”





2 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh my goodness! It sounds like some of the high profile committees over here, bickering and fighting, disrespecting and put downs. For this to be made public (Social media) shows a brave ‘one’ that clearly indicates there is a call for change. The visions and aspirations of many can be squashed by few. As Maori we do ourselves no favours when we continue to conduct business in a slap dash way. I admire the ‘vision’ Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui. Strive ever forward. If ‘one’ doesn’t stand up and be counted, it means one supports what they don’t believe in. We need to have the courage to speak out, for change will never come if we don’t.


  2. Interesting to hear on Radio this morning the chair of NKTT discussing Te Matatini. These deep seated issues will not be resolved by announcing in public how beautiful the kaupapa is, we all agree that it is beautiful. In fact I don’t disagree with anything that was said on radio. The major issue is not Te Matatini but how NKTT conduct themselves in relation to other states and territories in Australia.

    Apparently NKTT is 95% away from making a decision on where the National Kapa Haka Competition will be held. The decision was made at an AGM. There was no elected NSW Delegate present. There could not have been because the officially elected delegate from NSW was not accepted by NKTT.

    There was only one bid because the AGM was held in – house. No notice was given to NSWMPA. Im not saying that NSW should get to host the nationals or in fact that they should put a bid in to host – what I’m saying is that this process is wrong. Among other things ; NSW should have been given the opportunity to attend an AGM; An elected delegate should be recognised; A delegate must not be in a position to vote to bind their own committee; NKTT should not be in a position to force a committee to sign under duress; Disclosure and control of finances to NKTT should not be made mandatory by any committee.

    It is time the issues are addressed, and honour is restored to this very beautiful kaupapa of ours.


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