Māori Waka in the US to honour the Late Sir Hector Busby

By Piripi Taylor

The late Sir Hector Busby is being acknowledged by a group of his proteges who have carved a Māori canoe in America to be dedicated in his memory. The Māori recreational canoe took just four weeks to complete and will serve to honour the links between the Māori of Aotearoa and the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest.

Some 11,000km from his home on Aurere Beach in the Far North of NZ, the memory of the late Sir Hector Busby is carved in the hearts of the Suquamish, in Washington State, America.

Bennie Armstrong of the Tana Stob's Canoe Family from the Port Madison Indian Reservation describes how he had nothing but the utmost respect for such a powerful bridge builder.

"It's part of that bridge-building that's going on between the Native American canoe culture of the Northwest, which stretches all up and down our coast."

The memory of the bridge builder, renowned canoe builder and Master Celestial Navigator affectionately dubbed Tā Pā after his knighthood, is carved into a new 12m waka tētē made out of the native american cedar in his honour. 

"Hector touched this log," says Armstrong tapping the gun wale of the waka.

"After we did all this searching for the right log, we ended up coming back to the same logs that Hector already looked at."

Hector had travelled to Seattle after being consulted with about the project that was initiated 11 years ago by Joe Conrad, captain of the mighty 123ft war canoe Ngātokimatawhaorua, who attended the tribal canoe journey in 2010.

As the project progressed in May this year, Sir Hec passed away. That gave the project a new purpose.

"Hemi Eruera secured the funding," says Conrad from his home in Kaitaia. 

"He applied to Creative NZ and to Te Puni Kōkiri and was successful in getting the financial support to build our canoe over there."

Hemi Eruera is the head of Te Tapuwae o Te Waka campus at Awanui and led the team of six carvers on the project which they completed in just under four weeks. 

"Hemi was a pupil of our elder, Hekenukumai, along with some his students that he took with him to make the canoe," says Conrad who joined the team towards the end of the build to assist and conduct trials on the water.

"The energy was powerful and respectful throughout the whole time," says Armstrong whose canoe family banded together to care for the team consisting of Billy Harrison from Kaitaia, Bryce Motu from Pukepoto, Ashley Dye from Kaitaia, Haimona Brown from Te Kao and Rima Eruera.

Armstrong is a familiar face at Waitangi now and represented his people at the funeral of Sir Hec. In 1989 Armstrong was the elected leader of Suquamish, who hosted the very first Tribal Canoe Journey that has since led to the revitalisation of canoe traditions amongst the tribes of the Salish coast.

"The descendants of Chief Seattle, the Suquamish are the custodians of the waka, under the guidance of Bennie Armstrong and Māori," says Conrad.

Armstrong reflects on what elders in NZ shared with him at a pōhiri.

"We share the same water, the Pacific Ocean is the same ocean that we share. Our canoe and your canoes are blessed with the same water."  

The name of the canoe will be revealed when it is ceremonially launched ahead of next years Tribal Canoe Journey with the aim of participating in the paddle to Nanaimo, Canada.