25 Jun 2020

Te reo Māori champion Toni Waho dies: 'His reo will carry on'

3:38 pm on 25 June 2020

The father of two and unwavering advocate for te reo Māori, Toni Waho, has died.

Toni Waho.

Toni Waho. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Mclachlan

Waho died after he was swept down a river near Tangiwai in the Ruapehu district while he was out walking last night.

He was the former principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mana Tamariki in Palmerston North, and helped establish Te Rūnanganui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori.

Māori Party president and whanaunga to Waho, Che Wilson, said his legacy as a fierce advocate for te reo would live on forever.

"He's left a dream and a love for te reo Māori," Wilson said.

"His family were an example of how to start with nothing and how to then commit to the reo journey. He only ever spoke te reo Māori to his children. His kids have both said they've never had an English conversation with their father ever.

"In addition, he was also a strong iwi advocate and historian. He led our Ngāti Rangi tribunal research team and he also then became a negotiator with myself for our settlement that went through and was enacted last year."

In recent years Waho blew the whistle on claims of financial misspending by the Kōhanga Reo National Trust in 2013.

He lost his job after speaking out about the allegations, and the High Court later ruled his dismissal by the trust was unlawful.

Wilson said Waho always remained staunch in his views.

"He was extremely sharp and even if he had a different view he would stick to his view even if it wasn't popular. He was very determined," he said.

"Toni was also full of life, he was flamboyant and he loved to be the centre of the party.

"His reo will carry on, and that's something he has left for all of us."

Waho leaves behind three siblings, two children and three mokopuna.

Kua ngū tō reo Korimako, kua moe koe i tō moe tē whakaarahia.

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