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Te Rita Papesch had her schedule at the Tainui Waka Kapa Haka Festival all sorted, days ahead of last weekend’s event.

“It’s a bit of a struggle to sit there for 13 hours so I had my day planned to watch a few groups, go and have a rest and come back,” she says.

But that all changed the night before, when she learned she would be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival, in recognition of her long involvement in Māori performing arts, most notably kapa haka.

“Of course I ended up staying there all day and I thoroughly enjoyed the day.”

Te Rita – kaiako on the He Waka Hiringa Master of Applied Indigenous Knowledge programme - has been involved in kapa haka since the 1970s.

She performed for Queen Elizabeth during the 1970 Royal Tour and was part of the inaugural Waikato University kapa haka group, which formed in 1978.

In 1979 she became the first woman to receive the Kaitātaki Wahine title at the national kapa haka champs in Gisborne.

Te Rita has seven children, all involved in kapa haka, and more than 30 grandchildren. Last weekend, she had three grandchildren performing, a daughter MCing the event and another on the festival organising Trust.

“It was the fewest ever on stage on Saturday," she says.

Alongside performing arts, education has always been important to Te Rita and she combined both in her doctoral thesis, titled Creating a Modern Māori Identity through kapa haka.

She says receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was “an absolute honour”.

“It really means recognition from my iwi in the area that I have contributed in. I might not be visible in business or other areas but I certainly have been visible in the performing arts. I am very proud and very privileged.”

“Kapa haka is not just entertainment. It’s tikanga and reo and keeping people well and healthy, things like that, so that’s what it really means to me. I means my iwi have acknowledged me and that’s lovely when you’re hitting 70.”

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