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Subject matter experts and prominent New Zealand leaders share their knowledge and engage with the audience, sparking new ideas and innovation as minds from different backgrounds converge and focus their energy on a salient issue or theme.

A Civil Society: Our Roots, Our History

by Helen Peters, Director, KPMG in Christchurch

Tena koutou katoa

I have always considered myself a proud New Zealander, raised in a traditional family, educated through the New Zealand public school system and with a basic understanding of our history.

My first reaction to our retreat “Our Roots: Our History” was an overwhelming sense of embarrassment about just how “basic” my understanding of New Zealand history was – the history of the country that I have called home for almost 39 years and the country that I love so much.

My embarrassment very quickly turned to excitement – excitement about being given the unique opportunity to learn more about our roots, history and experience a deeper connection with Maori customs and culture. 

What better way to do this than a bus trip to the most beautiful part of New Zealand – the far north, where the landscape is incredibly breath-taking and even talks to you – more about this later...

Our first stop was Manaia Health PHO where the incredibly humble Chris Farrelly shared his views on the importance of us all walking side by side. His dedication to helping others and making a difference was very powerful and made me think very closely about my role and what I could do. We also met the delightful Whaea Annie – an incredible woman with a heart of gold who also had the energy of someone 30 years younger. What is her secret?

We next travelled to the He Iwi Kotahi Tatou Trust in Moerewa – where we all shared a very personal experience with the late Saana Murray. This truly was an awakening for me, a Pakeha from Wellington who had never thought about “going to the land” to better understand more about myself and the place I all home. But yet, I love this land, I pretty much run on it every day and it gives me the energy for my existence. During this session, it made me ask myself - have I already had my spiritual experience and not even realised it? The concept that you don’t just have a relationship with the land – but you are the land was fascinating! Exploring my deeper connection with the land genuinely excited me and made me look at the landscape with different eyes.

The best was still to come with the arrival at the Kohewhata Marae – my very first Marae experience, again an embarrassing admission for someone who has lived in New Zealand for 39 years. Words can’t even explain the welcome we received and I have full admiration for the part that Damon, Kelly and Maraea played. It was very moving and fascinating at the same time – I so wanted to know what was being said and longed for a greater knowledge of the beautiful Maori language. 

The Marae experience was everything and more than I expected. A deeper connection with our group, the land and the people. I am not sure I will ever wear jandals the same again!

The stories and genuine hospitability was overwhelming and even had a link to Humpty Dumpty – “don’t blow it apart if you can’t put it back together again.” This all led to the path of who am I? A powerful question with so many different answers. A question that still has me thinking so many days later.

We were also privileged to be in the company of Dr Aroha Williams and Justice Joseph Williams – a session that provided me with the history that I was craving. How did I not know this? Why have I never seen Tuki’s map before? Why have I never heard of Tuki? You could never have long enough with such powerful minds. And at the end of it – I was left with an overwhelming sense that the past grievances need to be put it right. Our history is incredibly important and we need to know it, we need to be taught it and we need to talk to about it. I now had my understanding.

An incredible journey with beautiful personal words and singing along the way – to my new family, I finish with a now familiar sound…

Te aroha

Te whakapono

Me te rangimarie

Tatou tatou e


Nga mihi