It often surprises us to find the quiet, gentle person in the room is also the resolute rock defending his people from the tide.
TEU stalwart Ekara Lewis was such a rock. Lewis (Ngāti Rakaipaaka) died yesterday.
Lewis worked at Lincoln University as the Māori Outreach Co-coordinator. A decade ago, he graduated from Lincoln with an honours degree in Māori Planning and Development. He was the only one of his 14 siblings to gain a tertiary education.
Lewis was a union member and advocate for union values throughout his working life. He became one of TEU’s senior Māori leaders, serving nationally on Te Uepū, Te Toi Ahurangi, the Tiriti Partnership Group and the Industrial and Professional Committee.
But it is in his Canterbury homestead of Lincoln where Lewis will be most fondly remembered and deeply missed. He used his position as TEU Lincoln branch’s vice-president to raise the profile of Māori staff in the union and on his campus.
He took others on his branch on a journey to integrate the union’s Tiriti obligations out of the theoretical and into their daily lives. Over the last three years, Lewis took his branch and his university on a step-by-step journey, gently encouraging them to embrace waiata and karakia in their meetings.
With him looking on, both the branch and the university used every decision they made to think how they could meet the aspirations of Māori staff and students.
When he was granted life membership of TEU last year, he was rightly described as a lifelong champion of the worker, Māori and the union movement.