She will chair the election process for her successor during the iwi’s annual meeting, Hui-ā-Tau, which is this year being held at Arahura Marae.
She said she approached the handover with mixed emotions.
"It’s 22 years of my life which has been invested in this. But I made this decision three years ago so it’s been a smooth transitional pathway to finishing," she said.
"I’m sad but I’m also really happy, and I’d love to see new leadership come through. It’s the end of an era but there are so many new things that I’m excited about that I’m going to get on with."
Mrs Tumahai (nee Tauwhare) has held office within Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu for 13 years, six as deputy-chair to Mark Solomon, one as interim chairwoman and then becoming the first woman to be elected to the kaiwhakahaere position in 2016.
During that time she has led Ngāi Tahu through many challenges and unprecedented times.
"There was Covid, there was the mosque shootings, there was the Kaikōura earthquake. In both [Canterbury] earthquakes I was in a position of office as the deputy chair and chaired the committee that was responsible for earthquake response. We set up an emergency response team initially after the Christchurch earthquake, then we kept adding to it and growing it because we kept having these civil emergencies in the South Island, whether they were floods, wind-throw, cyclones coming through, fires ... and then Covid.
"For three years my work was very much at a national and external level, and then continuing to maintain that support for rolling out Covid vaccination and Covid support services with [Hokitika-based] Poutini Waiora.
"That was kind of a hectic time."
She also is on the board of Te Ara Pounamu behind the development of the Pounamu Pathways hubs, and is Ngāti Waewae’s representative on the West Coast PHO, and Takiwā Poutini — a three-year pilot project to eliminate inequities and improve the health and well-being of all Coasters — and co-chairs the West Coast Regional Skills Leadership Group.
Mrs Tumahai has also served on the Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae executive committee for more than 20 years.
In 2002 she was elected as the Ngāi Tahu representative for Ngāti Waewae.
"It all kicked off then. It’s been my life and always that affection and love of the West Coast."
Her husband, Francois, chairs Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae, and both of them were "workaholics", she said.
The family was also instrumental in bringing the Arahura Marae to fruition. The multimillion-dollar investment, opened in 2014 and gave a strong cultural base for the iwi.
Mrs Tumahai said it was a testament to Ngāi Tahu around the regions — the constant building of capabilities in its people.
When she started out on the board 22 years ago there were only two other woman at the table, but that has reversed today.
There had also been a generational shift.
"When I started, the average age was 65. I was 33 and so it is great to start seeing that generational shift now. We have to make the space and move over so the next generation can come through."
However, succession was only partly behind her decision to step down from the role.
"I’m stepping down basically because my tank is dry and it’s time for new, fresh leadership that can move the tribe forward into its next evolution."
The Ngāi Tahu role came with a large component of work that took her off the Coast, including a weekly commute to Christchurch.
"So I’m looking forward to not doing that."
Mrs Tumahai said everywhere she went, including in international work with the Climate Change Commission, she always advocated for the West Coast.
Mrs Tumahai will start next week as the chief executive of Pokeka Poutini Ngai Tahu Ltd, which has a number of exciting projects on the go.
Separately to that, she has been spearheading a project looking at the state of biodiversity along the coastlines. — Hokitika Guardian
By Janna Sherman