Māori politicians recall the life of ‘Te Kārena’ Sir Michael Cullen

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Today Māori politicians pay tribute to a former MP who they say was a visionary, a formidable politician and great support to aspiring Māori politicians.

Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan spoke of Sir Michael as being a "father figure" to her. She spent time with him over the course of his battle with cancer, while she was battling it herself. Although shocked by his death, she is glad he is no longer suffering and in pain.

“He was a dear friend, an incredible mentor. I went and saw him a couple of days ago.”

"For so many of us in Te Rōpū Reipā, he's impacted so many of us at a personal level, let alone the politics. I think it's a huge sense of loss across the board. This has been a long time coming and although (his death) doesn't come as a shock, nevertheless it's still shocking”

Cullen was deputy prime minister under Helen Clark's government from 2002 to 2008 and was finance minister from 1999 to 2008. shaping a lot of budding Māori politicians along the way, including Kiritapu Allan and former Labour member, now Māori Party co-leader Rāwiri Waititi.

'He had a big heart'

“He tangata ngākau nui, he tangata pai.. ahakoa i peke au ki waka ke ake,  te waka tika, e korerohia nei te waka Māori. Ko ia hoki tetahi e tino akiaki ana i te tangata i roto i nga mahi tōrangapū.”

“He had a big heart, he was a good person. Although I jumped ship, to the right ship, the Māori ship, he was someone who really supported me in my political career

Ko tana e mea nei, kua karawhiua to pōtae i te rīngi, kia whai anō tetahi ara oranga mo Aotearoa whānui nei.

 “He once said to me ‘You’ve thrown your hat in the ring, and now you will find another path to wellness for New Zealand.”

 He worked closely with Ngāi Tūhoe in its hopes and aspirations. He was also instrumental in getting Ngāti Tūwharetoa's settlement across the line

“Ka hoki atu ngā mahara ki te takutai moana me era tūāhuatanga katoa - ko rātou te kāwanatanga i tērā wā engari ahakoa te aha, ka kite i te humārie i roto i te tangata, me te koi o te hinengaro”

“I think back to the seabed and foreshore dispute. At the time they were the government but, above all, he was humble and had a very sharp mind.”

The deputy PM and the protestor

Minister Kiritapu Allan says they didn’t always agree on everything but she found great value in open and honest debate with her mentor. These are memories she will hold on to.

"We had differing opinions on the seabed and foreshore events of the early 2000s. He was quite critical to the Labour government at the time, he was the deputy prime minister and I was a protestor on the doorstep."

"He really encouraged the country to be genuine about what a partnership means in the context of a Treaty relationship and what it means to give life to it in a modern-day context."

A memorial service in Tāneatua is being organised by the whānau.