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‘Uncle Charlie’ Croft - pillar of Ngāi Tahu - is laid to rest in Koukourārata

Paridhi Bakshi

Prominent Ngāi Tahu claim negotiator and the first kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Charlie Croft, was farewelled on Thursday, after dying peacefully at the age of 80.

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A memorial service was held for the much-respected iwi and hapu leader at Tūtehuarewa Marae, Port Levy.

Speaking outside the service, Ngāi Tahu leader Sir Mark Solomon said their relationship went back to the early 1990s when they were brought together through Te Ūpoko o Waitaha - an organisation of iwi in the South Island.

“Charlie represented Tūtehuarewa and Ngāti Huikai, and I was put in the group to represent Ngāti Kurī.

“He was a nice man and a good man… and he always had a big smile. He was involved with the tribe all through the negotiation stages and as the first kaiwhakahaere - Charlie did a lot of work for Ngāi Tahu.”

David Higgins of Te Rūnanga o Moeraki remembers Croft as a “great mate” and told his story of a falling out with him: “One of the problems Charlie had was he had this desire to drink huge amounts of coke, Coca Cola and he was always trying to convince me that I should be going to the dairy to get him Coca Cola. But I got instructions from Meri, ‘Don’t buy him any Coca Cola!’ So, I stuck to the instructions and he and I fell out over that for 10 minutes, so then we were back to normal again,” he laughed.

Looking to the future of the iwi and its leaders, Higgins said Ngāi Tahu was in safe hands for the future.

“We’re very proud of their accomplishments and their abilities, so we have total confidence in their ability to take the tribe into the future.”

Earlier, Ngāi Tahu chair Mananui Ramsden fondly recalled time shared with “Uncle Charlie”, and said he was the catalyst for a number of successes in Ngāi Tahu.

“Mēnā korekau a Uncle Charlie, korekau ko mātou. Uncle Charlie rāua ko Aunty Meri mā, ko te whānau hoki. Neke atu i te 60 tau e piri tonu rātou ki te whare nei. I aua wā korekau he marae, he hōro noa iho. Koia te tino take kai te taurikura haere te pā i tēnei wā,”

(If we didn’t have Uncle Charlie, we wouldn’t be where we are. Uncle Charlie and Aunty Meri, their entire whānau. For more than 60 years they were attached to this place. And back in those days there were no marae, it was only a hall. He is the main reason we have a thriving pā.”)

Hero Image: Charlie Croft was remembered as a man of his Ngāi Tahu people.

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