Thomas Haapu

Breaking new ground - Story by Tony Cutting

I caught up with Thomas for a quick coffee to find out more about this Senior Analyst who was recently appointed at The Treasury within the Education team. 

When you sit down with Thomas, you immediately realise you are in the company of a talented, bright, young family man with a genuine purpose and passion for what he does.

We started our korero by digging deeper into where his journey began.

The early days

In his words, his bones are from Whangara (located between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay for those who needed to know) and in his early days he spent an even amount of time between the East Coast and Wellington.  He was a whāngai, raised by his grandparents, where Te reo Māori was spoken in the home.  This upbringing ensured he knew where he was from and reconfirmed his Māori identity and what that really meant.

His grandparents instilled old school values in him at this early age. He described his school days as interesting times and he felt like he was living two lives, a Māori life at home alongside this different experience at school.

Although his grandparents did not have fond memories of their school years they knew the benefits a good education could bring their grandson.

In his years at High School, he lived mainly in Wellington.  

Thomas remembered there was not a huge expectation to go on further than college.  He was a good student but the reality for his grandparents was that no one in the whanau had gone to University.  Regardless of this fact they still instilled the importance of education and ensured he spent time after school to complete his homework.  Whether it was this discipline bestowed by his kaitiaki or his natural talent, Thomas had discovered the benefits of this hard work.

Breaking new ground

The work ethic he had formed during his first two years at intermediate was instilled by his grandmother, who would ensure he did 1-2 hours study after school each day.  This helped Thomas become a good student and learner.

What also helped Thomas early on into his high school education at Naenae College, was a bond he made with a Rarotongan teacher.  He talked to him about University and this conversation planted a seed in his mind and he questioned "how do I get there?  The teacher told him of other Maori and Pasifika students that had gone on to university to further their studies.  Most importantly he also believed Thomas had the potential to get there and supported his journey.

Going to university was breaking new ground for Thomas’ whanau, no one had this expectation of him.  Thomas however was personally motivated and began to understand the many additional career options that a tertiary education could bring him. Inspired, Thomas worked hard for this goal.  

He went on to become a College prefect and decided he would break new ground for his family and re-enforce that this was a path that others could follow.

Victoria University was the practical choice for Thomas so that he could study while still living at home.  After discussions with the Māori liaison at Victoria he decided to major in Anthropology while picking up some Maori papers to compliment his own passion.  In the second year he picked up more education related papers.  

At University he had some great influences from a number of very supportive teachers.  I immediately thought once you met Thomas you could understand why.  He is a motivated, professional young man with a strong tikanga and respect for hard work.

If you see potential in someone “Tell Them”

Thomas spoke proudly of the how Dr Kathie Irwin (fondly described as a passionate person that possessed the fire and intellect to push students along) and Prof. Wally Penetito guided him to take post grad study in Maori Education. Furthermore they encouraged him to provide support to other students as a tutor.

This experience along with his Master’s Degree in Education (with merit), majoring in Māori Education, and his Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Anthropology provided Thomas with the opportunity to work at Victoria University as a Junior Lecturer.  Thomas had learnt through these pivotal years in his education how important it was to encourage young people who show potential. He also spoke highly of the people who had helped him on his journey.

Breaking new ground “The Sequel”

Thomas then ventured into local government working for Gisborne District Council in a community development role. He then went back to Wellington for analyst and advisor roles with MAF, MORST and Ministry of Education.  An opportunity saw him second into the Office of Hon. Dr Wayne Mapp (Minister of Science and Innovation), then on to the Office of the Auditor General.  This was followed by TEC and a contract as an Advisor for Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). All this valuable experience was building him into a career that would help him grow in the direction he was searching for.

Through the Kumara Vine he became aware of an opportunity within the Treasury. 

The Treasury were signalling they wanted to attract more knowledge to help improve the outcomes for Maori, especially in critical living standard areas.  Thomas was drawn to an immediate vacancy for a senior role within the Education team. In this role he would again be helping to break new ground assisting the way Treasury approached tackling some of Aotearoa’s biggest challenges.

Thomas was successfully appointed to the role, and is one of what is hoped to be, many highly trained and skilled Maori who will follow in his footsteps into the Treasury.  

He admits there are many challenges in his new role. He has a massive hill to climb in terms of understanding and learning from some of New Zealand’s finest analysts, while understanding the strength he brings with his own knowledge of tikanga, policy, our education system and personal experience.

Congratulations Thomas! Acknowledgements to all those who have helped this talented young man on his journey to date, and also into our future.

Thomas Haapu