May 15, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Sustainable memorial for Hawea Vercoe

3 min read

The whanau of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Rotoiti will today unveil a memorial garden for the schools former principal, Hawea Vercoe.

The 36-year-old was hit and killed a year ago by an Opotiki man, who is currently serving a prison term for manslaughter.

Acting principal Tammy Gardiner says the memorial, which includes a wetland beside Lake Rotoiti, shows the love the community still feels.

The following was in the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday, kia ora in particular to Greg Taipari and Matt Martin for this:

One year after the death of Rotorua leader Hawea Vercoe his family are still coming to terms with their loss.

Monday marks the first anniversary of the sudden and tragic loss of one of Rotorua’s and Maoridom’s most promising future leaders. Mr Vercoe died on November 22 last year after being attacked by 21-year-old Opotiki man Isaiah Tai in Whakatane.

Tai pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to two years and 10 months’ jail.

Mr Vercoe’s aunty, Rehi Vercoe, told The Daily Post yesterday it had been a hard year and the family would mark the anniversary next weekend with the unveiling of his headstone in Te Teko.

“It’s been a very tough year and we still don’t have complete closure. We are still waiting on an appeal to the Attorney-General and the Crown Law Office, asking that they consider appealing the sentence.”

Tai punched Mr Vercoe in the head, knocking him to the ground, then kicking him in the head as he lay unconscious on The Strand in Whakatane. He was convicted of Mr Vercoe’s manslaughter in June.

Mr Vercoe’s family and the Crown are appealing the sentence because they believe it is too short.

A father of six, 36-year-old Mr Vercoe was principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rotoiti and was serving his first term as Okurei Maori constituency member for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council when he was killed.

His unveiling will be held at Puketapu Urupa, where he was buried next to his brother Tamaoho Vercoe, who died of cancer almost 16 years ago.

A hakari (feast) will be held at Tuteao Marae in Te Teko after the unveiling.

Ms Vercoe said the unveiling would be a chance for family and friends to remember a special person.


“It will be a time for the family to celebrate his life, and for the community to remember him and for everyone to find a way forward.”

Mr Vercoe’s father, Waaka Vercoe, told The Daily Post the unveiling would be a special day for family with plans to celebrate both his sons’ lives. The unveiling would begin at 9.30am.

Mr Vercoe’s passing will also be marked on Monday by the blessing of a memorial garden and launch of a floating wetland at Lake Rotoiti.

The memorial will begin with a powhiri at Mr Vercoe’s old school, followed by the unveiling and blessing of a memorial garden.

The floating wetland – a construction which provides habitat for wildlife and helps with filtering pollution from waterways – will be launched from Lake Rotoiti following the powhiri and waka will tow it to its anchor site.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rotoiti acting principal Tammy Gardiner said Mr Vercoe was a very important, valued and treasured member of the school and community.

“We have decided that we would like to refrain from remembering this day as the day that we lost him and remember the day as a tribute to the man who contributed so much to our kura and community.

“One of Hawea’s aspirations was to initiate a floating wetland for Lake Rotoiti. He was extremely passionate about the health of the lake and instilled into our children the same enthusiasm as future kaitiaki (guardians) of our mana whenua and mana moana. Unfortunately he was taken from us before the dream could be fulfilled,” she said.

Staff and children at the school had been working on a remembrance garden called Te Mara Manawanui, which will be unveiled and blessed on the day.

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