The young mayor sparking change in the Far North

Moko Tepania - single use only  - Far North kahikā (mayor)

Mayor Moko Tepania in Kaitāia in 2019, two months after he was first elected onto the council.
Photo: LDR / Susan Botting

Far North kahikā (mayor) Moko Tepania says being elected into his role with the support of local iwi means he and his councillors are not alone.

Iwi leaders from across the Far North pledged to support Tepania, the district’s first Māori mayor, at a pōwhiri in Waitangi in October 2022.

Powhiri for new Far North District Council - single use only

New Far North mayor Moko Tepania with Te Kura o Te Kao students at the council pōwhiri.
Photo: LDR/ Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

At the time, Ngāti Hine leader Waihoroi Shortland said Tepania (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa) had long been a leader. He was fulfilling the wishes of his forebears in being elected as mayor for the Far North District Council/ Te Kaunihera o Tai Tokerau ki te Raki, he said.

Iwi leaders, among about 700 people at Waitangi, said Tepania’s mayoralty heralded a new dawn. He would not be alone. They would support him and his council.

The description of kahikā, the tall and strong native kahikatea tree, was bestowed on the new mayor at the pōwhiri.

Eight, or just over 70 percent, of FNDC’s 11 councillors have whakapapa Māori – in a district where the population is 51 percent Māori and home to 128 marae.

Moko Tepania - single use only  - Far North kahikā (mayor)

Far North Mayor Moko Tepania at FNDC’s Kaikohe head office.
Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Michael Cunningham

One year on from the Waitangi pōwhiri, there have been changes at FNDC.

Maramataka is now part of council governance.

FNDC’s meeting schedule has been transformed so that meetings take place at times in the Moon’s cycle that are appropriate for their purpose.

Council meetings used to be six-weekly, on a set day of the week. They’re now four-weekly, in sync with the Moon and within that on differing days of their scheduled week depending on what is most auspicious.

Tepania said diarising council meetings to fit the Moon’s cycles means better-flowing meetings.

“We had an extraordinary council meeting that was outside that timing. The meeting went terribly,” he said.

Tepania recently gained a Master of Education with first class honours. His thesis looked at the use of maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, in education.

Another new feature is the council’s tikanga-based te kuaka/ te ao Māori committee that started in October this year.

It is externally chaired by Te Kahu o Taonui (Northland Iwi Chairs Forum) chair Harry Burkhardt (Ngāti Kuri). Te Kahu o Taonui’s 11 mandated iwi have been invited to participate.

The Far North District Council (FNDC) also set up a new te pae o uta – te reo Māori and tikanga framework in September, encouraging the language’s use including with bilingual signage. Tepania is passionate about te reo.

The council’s first Māori ward – Ngā Tai o Tokerau – has not long clicked over its first year. Four of the council’s 11 politicians represent this ward.

Tepania played a key role in its introduction.

So, what does he think, one year on?

“It has been absolutely the right thing. The way our Māori ward councillors have been able to engage to solve issues for Māori in the Far North has been phenomenal.”

Tepania, who also has Pākehā heritage, said FNDC’s council represents the Far North’s wider community well.

“We’ve got a reflection of our community; Māori and Pākehā, young and old, male and female – from all different backgrounds including farmers and entrepreneurs and more.”

FNDC is also working on developing a mana whakahono a rohe/ iwi participation arrangement with Te Runanga-Ā-Iwi-O-Ngāpuhi.

And it has set up a new te koukou/ transport committee in July to have more influence over getting ongoing huge roading issues sorted.

Tepania said it’s been a very tough first 12 months.

“It’s been a hell of a year for the council and district,” Tepania said.

“We’ve had to activate our civil defence team 14 times over that time, for a start.

“There have been ex-tropical cyclones and other weather, bush fires on the Aupōuri Peninsula, the dog attack in Moerewa.

“There have been some terrible tragedies. It seems to have been constant crisis management.”

Moko Tepania - single use only  - Far North kahikā (mayor)

Moko Tepania has had a baptism of fire as mayor with “constant crisis management” required.
Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Michael Cunningham

Tepania, 33, was elected as the Far North’s first Māori and youngest mayor in October 2022, starting his second council term.

He earned $162,879 in remuneration during his first year and helms an 11-member council (including his role), plus three community boards’ 19 members, a $164.8 million council operating budget, a staff of 400, a district of 70,000-plus people. FNDC’s 30,000 ratepayers paid $97.8m in rates during his first year as mayor.

‘Haka by email’, to make things happen, are part of his mayoral toolkit.

Like the haka in 3D, these emails are about “being diplomatic and a little bit pushy” at the same time, he said.

Tepania has been firing off ‘haka by email’ to National transport spokesperson Simeon Brown, making sure his district’s roading is on the radar in the politician’s Pakuranga-based world.

“We need $72 million to bring our roading back to safe and resilient levels.

“I want to make sure he knows about our needs.”

Tepania, who is also Local Government New Zealand’s northern board member, wants the new government to get moving on its formation.

He said there were many hold-ups for local government as a result of the government not yet having been formed.

Tepania gives the council a C-plus report card for how well it has served its people over his first year at the helm.

Far North councillor Moko Tepania (left) receives the Stop SNAs petition delivered by the hikoi, from Hinerangi Himiona.

Cr Moko Tepania receives a petition from protest organiser Hinerangi Himiona after 2000 people converged from around Northland to march to the Far North District Council against significant natural areas (SNAs).
Photo: LDR/ Northern Advocate, Michael Cunningham

There are positives such as the council’s civil defence responses and advocating on behalf of communities.

But there is much to be done, he said.

“We have some distance to go in terms of responsiveness,” Tepania said, while at pains to say that comment was not about FNDC’s “wonderful” staff.

This could be seen in North Hokianga’s still not sorted slips at Pawarenga, Runaruna, Mitimiti and Panguru. These came down in the huge August 2022 rains that shut the Mangamukas once more.

“We’re going into summer where we have thousands of people coming home to those areas and the slips from August last year are still sitting there.”

Tepania said the district’s roading still needed attention in the wake of ex-tropical cyclones and major rain.

Due to Cyclone Gabrielle damage and more, FNDC has been given the unusual opportunity to put together a new three-year only Long Term Plan (LTP) bringing a $280,000 audit fee saving.

FNDC set up a new te koukou/transport committee in July to have more influence over getting huge roading issues sorted.

Tepania wants self-determination for the Far North’s people.

His hope is they grow to understand they can do anything they set their minds to, that anything is possible.

“I would like them to have a belief that they can change the world.”

Tepania has not long returned from Belfast in Northern Ireland where he was presented with a global leadership award for his encouragement of young people into politics.

Far North Kahika (Mayor) Moko Tepania (centre) with fellow delegates at the One Young World summit in Belfast. Photo: Moko Tepania

Far North kahika (mayor) Moko Tepania (centre) with fellow delegates at the One Young World summit in Belfast.
Photo: Moko Tepania

Tepania said much has been done, but there is more too to achieve the council’s vision ‘he whenua rangatira – a district of sustainability, prosperity and wellbeing’.

He looks forward to the future and reflects on the late Northland leader Sir James Henare’s words.

“Kua tawhiti kē tō haerenga mai kia kaua e haere tonu, ka nui rawa ō mahi kia kaua e mahi tonu.

“You’ve come too far not to go further, you have done too much not to do more.”

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