Community leader Dame Aroha farewelled at her marae near Kaiapoi

Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts. Photo: Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts
Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts. Photo: Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts
Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts, the former president of the Māori Women's Welfare League, teacher, kapa haka advocate, and Ngāi Tahu community leader, is being farewelled at her marae near Kaiapoi.

She died at Christchurch Hospital, surrounded by whānau and her favourite waiata, on Friday, aged 83.

Dame Aroha (Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu) was a kaumātua of Tuahiwi Marae - where she today lies in state - and represented her hapū both locally and nationally, including as a representative on the tribal council of Ngāi Tahu.

Her signature purple and elegant hats becoming easily recognisable across Te Wai Pounamu.

She was passionate about kapa haka, taking it up at age seven and developing to become co-tutor of the Māori cultural performance group at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. She set a world endurance record for a poi performance: 30 hours and 19 minutes.

Dame Aroha then became a teacher, a profession she held until 1989, when her husband Peter Reriti died. That prompted some changes, and she dived deep into her life's work and ran for president of the Māori Women's Welfare League, which she had joined in 1968.

She was the league's president for much of the early '90s, and became a stauch advocate for Māori health, wellbeing and parenting programmes. She also used the role to support wāhine Māori business startups and development.

Beyond that, she also served in leadership roles with the Poutama Training Centre, was a board member of the Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation, and was chair of the Māori Midwives Trust. She also sat on Rakai and Mawhere land committees.

"What's been my driving force? If there's a challenge out there I want to have a go at it," Dame Aroha told RNZ in 2020. "If there's an opportunity to help someone then you grab the opportunity, and I enjoy doing so."

After the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Dame Aroha, as chair of Matapopore, helped ensure Ngāi Tahu's role in the rebuild of Christchurch, utilising Ngāi Tahu artists and offering cultural advice and guidance.

"Our city looks beautiful," she said. "What that is doing is that we are making a statement. When my ancestors were here and the settlers came, my ancestors were expected to die out. They didn't.

"When the city was built my ancestors weren't included in the planning of the city. But we are now."

Dame Aroha had many accolades, including once being named 'Young Māori Woman of the Year," a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, and in 1993 she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She was knighted in 2020.

"I'm still Aunty Aroha, I'm still me, the Dame hasn't changed anything, I still look the same when I look in the mirror."

Dame Aroha is survived by three of her four children, and many mokopuna. She lies in state at Tuahiwi Marae near Kaiapoi, ahead of her nehu on Tuesday.

Her whanau confirmed her death in a social media post which mentioned the 83-year-old was battling Covid-19 at the time.

"Please if you are not well, stay home and send your love. Our Taua passed away due to difficulties after contracting Covid and we want to reduce the risk of spread to any other whānau.

"Be at peace now Taua, you have lived a life of service to your people. Advocating for the betterment for wahine, whānau, hapū , iwi and Te Ao Māori with the faith in Ihoa always at your side. What a wonderful legacy you have left for your uri to prosper in. We thank you."

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