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Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu chairperson Lisa Tumahai has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2023 New Year Honours.
The honour is in recognition of Tumahai's (Ngāi Tahu, Tainui, Ngāti Hikairo, Ngāti Kahungunu) contributions to Māori health and development, and her climate change efforts.
Tumahai, who has been Ngāi Tahu chair since 2016, told Stuff she is “thrilled” but "humbled" to receive the honour.
“In our iwi, we have a lot of other people who work behind the scenes and the honour is as much theirs as much as it is mine.”
She previously served as the Deputy Chair from 2011 and has led the iwi through challenging times, including the Covid-19 pandemic and growing the tribal council towards climate-friendly decisions and strategies.
Her leadership has shifted the rūnanga towards sustainable approaches when making decisions on the tribe’s future investments, whether it is commercial or through people development. With Ngāi Tahu engineering, for example, V8 engines were turned into electric engines to help protect the waters and the environment, a first in New Zealand.
Tumahai served as the Deputy Chair of the Interim Climate Change Committee between 2018 and 2019, before becoming Deputy Chair of New Zealand's Climate Change Commission. She told Stuff, "There is lots more work to be done."
She has been a board member of Poutini Waiora since 2015, a Māori health and social service provider, delivering holistic care to whānau across Te Tai o Poutini.
Tumahai says she is taking time out now to enjoy Christmas and New Year with her whānau, including her 15-month-old twin granddaughters.
“It’s our second Christmas with them but this year they are walking and climbing so I’m excited to spend a couple of weeks with whānau and chilling out at home. I travel a lot for mahi so not to hop on a plane for a couple of weeks is pretty cool,” she told Stuff.