A pair of Waitaki residents recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List were presented with their awards in Wellington last week.
David Higgins (Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit), upoko runanga for Moeraki, and David Finlay (Queen’s Service Medal) received their honours from Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy in front of gathered guests at Government House.
A citation that appeared in the Otago Daily Times on June 5 said Mr Higgins, who was decorated for services to Maori, never thought he would receive such a high honour for his work.
He was part of the team that took on the Crown and finished Ngai Tahu Whanui’s settlement in the late 1990s – a process his ancestor Tiramorehu began in 1849 when he sent a letter of complaint to the governor of the day.
Mr Higgins, of Palmerston, was the Arowhenua member of the Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board that lodged the Ngai Tahu claim before the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986.
He was proud of the role he played and said Ngai Tahu had gone from strength to strength since its win.
“We built up a formidable team that presented the evidence. We did it because our ancestors expected us to do it.”
He was a key player in gathering much of the fisheries evidence that was presented to the tribunal and his efforts in leading the Ngai Tahu Fishing Company resulted in Ngai Tahu having a substantial financial base prior to the settlement of the iwi’s claims with the Crown.
His advice for any group going up against an adversarial power was to persevere, stay true to one’s self and have a team of dedicated people.
In 2000, he was appointed as the Department of Conservation’s Pou Kura Taiao for the Canterbury Conservancy.
Mr Higgins has retired as the Moeraki representative on Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu after two terms this year.
For Mr Finlay, his nomination, for services to irrigation and sport, “came out of the blue”.
“When you’re working hard at something .. you have your head down and you go from day to day thinking about things,” he said.
“You never think that someone’s going to sing out to you, ‘Well done”‘.
Mr Finlay served for 41 consecutive years on the committee of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation scheme and company board and in the 1990s, he helped the North Otago Irrigation Company get off the ground.
“It’s a pain at the start .. it’s not easy, but for the community, the benefit is quite enormous – forever.”
In 1976, he helped to develop the Lower Waitaki Golf Club, where the golf course’s irrigation was “way ahead of its time”, and he served as president for four years. He still marvelled at “the power of the community out there that built that thing”.
He was involved with North Otago Federated Farmers for a “very long time” and served a two-year term as the meat and wool chairman.
Mr Finlay coached rugby at provincial and school levels and held administrative roles for North Otago rugby.