ECE Diamonds

Kahuwaero Chase Katene - one who is aware of the forgotten ones

1931 - 2024
Life member 2003
Kaiwhakahaere 1997-2002

Kahuwaero Chase Katene embarked upon her ECE career as a mother and grandmother when her grown son wryly challenged her to teach his children to speak te reo.

Kahu’s own first language was Māori. Her pāpā was a bushman in Taupō and her 1930s childhood was immersed in nature, freedom, adventure and fun. Kahu grew up playing in the bush with siblings and cousins. They played and through play, they learned. 

At school however, children were discouraged from speaking Māori. Kahu would return from school with red knuckles… “We used to have to go to the desk and stand by the teacher and read: C-A-T, CAT. I’d say C-A-T, he ngeru. The teacher would say “NO! ”and slap!”

Kahu’s children growing up in the 1950s spoke English. Kahu’s political awakening began during the 1970s when she met Eva Rickard, who said: “Kahu, take your head out of the sand and look what is happening around us, take a look at the system. Have you seen what’s happening to our people…?

So, when her son issued his wero, Kahu, aged 54 and māmā to seven grown children, took it up. It was the early 1980s. Te Kōhanga Reo movement was just getting going. With no formal teaching qualifications, Kahu set up a kōhanga in Tuhikaramea, a Mormon community near Hamilton. She enrolled in the Association’s Childcare Certificate as one of only three Māori in training: “I found it interesting, challenging, exciting, fascinating. I had to read things I never thought of before… I found I was learning things and I would come back and apply them to the Kōhanga.”

In 1987, Kahu was assigned to the Department of Education as Māori advisor and became involved developing the new Before Five early childhood policies. Speaking to early childhood students about the exciting changes afoot, Kahu commented: “What I’m saying to myself is “Where do you fit Kahu Katene? Is there a place for you amongst those new structures?” I have a role as a supportive Māori woman, as a caring person, as one who is aware of the “forgotten ones.”

Around the same time, the Association was on its own bicultural journey. Maureen Jehly contacted Kahu and, in 1990, when the Association made its formal commitment to the Treaty, Kahu was elected to represent Māori interests on Council.
“I had this commitment to the Association. I had enjoyed their training. It had given me new life and widened my world. I wanted to know now what it was going to do for Māori.”

However, she correctly foresaw a challenging pathway head to genuine partnership and biculturalism. “I had the strong impression that it was going to be more painful and more difficult than they thought it would be.”

As a Council member and later as National Advisor Māori and Kaiwhakahaere to the Council, Kahu continued to advance the bicultural kaupapa of the organisation. Whaea Kahu was awarded life membership in 2003. She  remains connected to Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand, a much treasured, loved and respected member.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Kahu's full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa