Te Ahi Kaa joins June Northcroft-Grant at her office in Rotorua for a kōrero about whakapapa, art and village life.
June Northcroft-Grant’s connection to her land at Tuhourangi Ngāti Wahiao is a place where she draws her energy from, in fact there’s a word she found that best describes that feeling, ‘Querencia’ which speaks to the strident stance of a bull.
“It’s about a bull feeling confident, a place where ones strength is drawn from, where one feels at home, …where you feel your most authentic itself.” she says.
The achievements of her ancestor Makareti Papakura was also at the forefront of her mind. Makareti became famous for her guided tours during the early twentieth century that included a guided tour with King George V in 1901.
“Before the eruption in 1886 we were guiding visitors through the village and that’s one of the longest levels of employment for any job in New Zealand has been the guiding tradition” she says.
In 1911 Makareti lead a kapahaka group to England and performed at the Chrystal palace as part of the coronation celebrations of King George V. In 1912 Makareti left the village for England and eventually married Richard Staples-Brown. In 1926 she enrolled at Oxford University to study anthropology with a focus on her own people of Tuhourangi Ngāti Wahiao. According to June, Makareti would have her work verified by her family by sending letters back and forth. Makareti died in 1930 and is buried at Oddington cemetery. Her body of work about her people formed the book ‘The Old Time Māori’ published in 1938.
“A lot of people have visited we have seen the visitors book, everybody goes there because her papers are still in the museum in the Pitt River Museum…she described life in our village, it was a bible for us because it described day by day, the fishing the preparing of the kai, everything about our village and the whakapapa was all there, written by her.” June says.
The life and tenacity of Makareti has inspired June’s work as an artist, former gallery and print business owner, many of her paintings draw on the mana wahine (women empowerment). In 1989 June graduated from the four year course in Māori Arts at Waiariki Polytechnic (now Toi Oho Mai). In the past four decades her artwork has exhibited in galleries around the world.
In 2002 June was diagnosed with Breast cancer and during this time she created a series of artwork she called her ‘legacy paintings’, today she is in remission and is kept busy with the work she does with cancer support group Aratika Trust, and her work with Te Arawa Whanau Ora. In 2010 June was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Māori art and for breast cancer awareness.