Challenges transform runanga CEO

Debbie Packer

Being treated differently is something Debbie Ngarewa-Packer knows a thing or two about.

These days she is the head of Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui and oversees a treaty settlement portfolio worth about $60 million but she admits has never quite shaken the stigma attached to her when she was a 19-year-old single mother.

After leaving an abusive relationship, Ngarewa-Packer said she refused to go onto a benefit and worked multiple jobs, without a car, while raising her daughter.

“I struggled like hell.”

But she did not let this experience define her and used it as motivation to prove to others she could still succeed in life.

“I think it drew a fire in my belly.”

After getting a cadetship at the Department of Maori Affairs she moved into the Television New Zealand’s sales and marketing team before taking on a role with New Zealand’s iwi radio stations.

However, she made a conscious decision to move back to Taranaki as she had a desire to be back home and work with her own people.

After serving as South Taranaki’s deputy mayor for a time, she now sits on the Tui Ora board and was recently appointed to the Maori Economic Development Panel.

However, she still finds it hard to call herself a leader, especially as the people she looked up to, including her father Hemi, were still alive and active in the community.

“I feel pipsqueak in comparison to the real rimu trees,” said the mother of three.

Although passionate about her job and the chance she had to make a difference, she said her dedication did have its pitfalls at times.”It’s made me quite a workaholic.”

A lesson she has learned in recent times has been that she needed to look after her own health in order to have the energy to do all the work she signed up for.

One of her recent accomplishments was to complete the Iron Maori triathlon, held in Hawera this month. “It’s quite a movement. It transforms your life.”

While she considered herself an inclusive leader, she said she took the front seat when she needed to on issues, such as Ngati Ruanui’s objection to an application made last year by Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to mine off the Patea Coast.

The bid was denied by the Environmental Protection Authority and TTR abandoned plans to appeal the decision in December.

Being open to new challenges was also an important part of Ngarewa-Packer’s makeup and was one of the reasons behind her decision to embark on Phd study this year.

She plans to study how whanau groups can move from a position of poverty to financial freedom, an idea inspired by her own transformation.

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