Ngati Toa leader Matiu Rei says his role in leading the legal challenge against the controversial Foreshore and Seabed legislation could be the reason he has been awarded a Knighthood in this weekend’s Queen’s Birthday honours.
Rei spoke to our reporter from his home in Wellington, where his family were still getting used to his new title.
It's not every day Matiu Rei opens up the newspaper to see a picture of himself staring back. Today though is no ordinary day.
He says, “I was so surprised when I saw the letter. I turned to my partner and asked what she thought, she was really happy.”
Surrounded by his partner Teresa and grand-nephews Matiu and Tamairangi, this morning Rei fielded calls of congratulations from family and friends with many suggesting it was his work opposing the Foreshore and Seabed legislation that scored him top honours.
“We met and we discussed our plan of action. The starting of that was the group Ope Mana Tai, Te Ohu Kaimoana helped us and we were able to challenge the bill in court,” says Rei
Rei has been honoured for his service to Māori, with particular focus on his work in helping Ngāti Toa secure a $70 million dollar treaty package.
At the time Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson praised Rei's efforts as lead negotiator.
Rei says, “He really surprises me. He was tough during negotiations, and he was stingy as well.”
Part of that settlement was also kaitiaki rights to one of the most well-known haka worldwide, Ka Mate. It’s allowed Ngāti Toa to take a harsh stance on those denigrating their taonga.
“We will always guard our taonga, despite those that denigrate it, they are ignorant and have no knowledge about it whatsoever.”
Rei says he never imagined he would become a Sir in his lifetime, a reminder that even the most humble achievers are honoured when they least expect it.