Iwi leader, father figure with loving heart dies of Covid-19

By Jessica Tyson

Nigel Huirama Te Hiko, 54, is the youngest person to have died from Covid-19 in Aotearoa after battling the virus for at least a month in intensive care.

It comes only weeks after his brother, Alan Te Hiko, 58, died from the virus contracted at his workplace, Americold.

Nigel Te Hiko is one of seven siblings and is survived by his much loved whāngai daughter Gwen and moko Mahina-ā-rangi. He has been described by his whānau as a father figure with a big heart and immense love.

“Nigel was definitely a leader in the whānau. He rallied whānau together. One call from him and everybody would flock to him. He was a father figure to all our nephews and nieces. He was the one they would turn to when they needed advice. He held the family together," cousin Phyllis Tahere told Te Ao.

Tahere says Te Hiko had so much love for whānau whānui.

“The door at our whānau homestead was always open, no matter what time day or night. The door and Nigel’s heart was always open.”

Working for his people

Te Hiko worked for more than 20 years for his people, first at the then Raukawa Māori Trust Board, which became the Raukawa Settlement Trust.

He took a year out in 2006 to care for his late mother through her final sickness and put his masters degree on hold.

He had a background in social work but developed his skills and expertise as a researcher and historian. His thirst for knowledge and understanding stood him apart, the te Hiko family says.

Raukawa chair Vanessa Eparaima says Te Hiko was a pou of support for her and the iwi in her time as chair and for those leaders who came before.

“As in any iwi, our workers are whānau, friends, colleagues, kaimahi all in one. Nigel was that and so much more. We often acknowledge the specialness, the uniqueness when we must say our final farewells for our loved ones. But for Nigel, it is impossible not to acknowledge his immense skill and invaluable support for so many – how exceptional he was.”

Eparaima says Te Hiko wasalso  a loyal fan of the Warriors.

“Nigel was exceptional also in that he always managed to get his Warriors jersey on, despite the varying stages of development of his often swelling puku. He was a man who was very passionate and never shy to show his deep love and pride for his whānau and his iwi.” 

Leaving a legacy

Eparaima says Te Hiko was a Raukawa historian whose love for knowledge and passion for accumulating and increasing his and his tribe’s shared history and mātauranga leaves a lasting legacy. 

“He was an incredibly humble man. He did not crave the limelight, and was an immense pou of support often in the background, supporting leaders with whaikōrero when required, history and advice, and with the ammunition of research and knowledge, which was crucial to the conclusion of the Raukawa Treaty settlement negotiations.” 

However, he also did not shy away from an audience.

“With all of this mātauranga that Nigel held in his mind, he loved to share this to whoever was willing to hear, and those who heard it appreciated and were engaged as much as Nigel, the whānau says.

“He passionately believed that the more people who knew what he did the better for the iwi and his people.  He was a beautiful man, with a huge loving heart, and an infinite pool of kind reassuring and guiding words for any who required them.”

Declining health

The family says over the last few years Te Hiko was burdened with declining health.

“It slowed but did not hinder him, nor diminish his attitude and desire to continue to do what he could for his iwi and people.  His quiet humble determination to not be bowed by illness and to continue to work and strive to complete his work, especially his compilation of a definitive Raukawa History was an inspiration for us all.”

The whānau says Te Hiko has left immense shoes to fill for the iwi.

“But we are so grateful he has left so many words and documents that will feed the minds and hearts of many of this generation and of those many who are to come.”

She says her deepest condolences and aroha have been passed on to Te Hiko's whānau. 

"I know that this will be a sad time for whānau, our team and the many, many people who have been touched by Nigel’s presence. I want to pass on my gratitude and aroha to all those who have, and those who will continue to, provide support and assistance, where required, through this exceedingly difficult time.”

Te Hiko will be taken to Ongaroto Marae this afternoon where he will lie until his burial on Saturday.