Story: Jones, Michael Rotohiko

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Jones, Michael Rotohiko

1895–1978

Ngāti Maniapoto; interpreter, land agent, sportsman, private secretary, public administrator, broadcaster

This biography, written by Reimana Rotohiko Jones,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Michael Rotohiko Jones was born at Poro-o-Tarao in the King Country on 14 September 1895, the son of Daniel Lewis, a European storekeeper, and Paretekōrae Poutama of Ngāti Maniapoto. Sometime after the birth of Michael's younger siblings (including Pei Te Hurinui), Daniel Lewis left New Zealand, possibly to accompany his brothers to the South African War. In any event he did not return to Paretekōrae but settled in Australia, where he became a successful racehorse trainer. (In 1945 Michael met his father for the first time since childhood when Daniel was attending the Trentham yearling sales.) Paretekōrae later married David Jones, of Ngāpuhi descent, and the children took their stepfather's surname.

Michael Jones attended the Ōngarue and Te Kūiti primary schools and received his secondary education at Wesley College, Three Kings, Auckland, and Manunui Māori Boys' Agricultural College at Taumarunui. He served on the western front in the first New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1916 to 1919, attaining the rank of staff sergeant in the New Zealand Māori (Pioneer) Battalion. He was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing a wounded soldier under fire.

On returning to New Zealand Jones worked with Richard Ormsby, a land agent in Te Kūiti. There he met Kahuwaero Hetet, the youngest child of Hēnare Matengaro Hetet and Te Rūwai Otimi. He married Kahuwaero at Ōngarue on 14 January 1920. They were to have four sons and three daughters.

In 1922 Jones set up his own business in Hāwera as a licensed interpreter and land agent. He was a member of the Hāwera Borough Council and the Hāwera Hospital Board. Said to have been the first Māori Rotarian, he became vice president of the local Rotary club. He was president of the South Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association and served on the dominion executive. A keen sportsman, Michael Jones was on the management committee of the New Zealand Māori Lawn Tennis Association, and he and his brother, Pei Te Hurinui, were New Zealand Māori doubles champions in 1928. He was also a top golfer and was a member of the New Zealand Māori Golf Association.

By the late 1920s Michael Jones had been singled out by Apirana Ngata as a future Māori leader. He was an adviser to Ngata on his land consolidation schemes in the King Country, and from 1928 he and Pei Te Hurinui acted as advisers to Te Puea Hērangi and the King movement. Completely bilingual and comparatively well educated, the brothers were well qualified to act as mediators between the Māori and Pākehā worlds. In 1940, on the recommendation of Apirana Ngata and the chief judge of the Native Land Court, Jones was appointed private secretary to the native minister, Frank Langstone, succeeding Te Raumoa Balneavis. He was able to exert considerable influence on the policies of the department, to the extent that he was sometimes referred to as the de facto minister. His presence did much to restore Te Puea's faith in the Native Department, which had waned since Ngata's resignation in 1934.

During the Second World War the Jones brothers' close association with Te Puea led to their being the subject of a security investigation, brought about by the widespread rumour that Te Puea had German family connections. Michael Jones's status in the King movement was evident in 1947 when he organised and accompanied a Waikato contingent that attended a royal wedding in Tonga and visited other Pacific countries. The party included Te Puea and the young princess Piki, later Queen Te Ātairangikaahu.

After the war, Prime Minister Peter Fraser was anxious to settle the matter of compensation for the Tainui land confiscations. Negotiations, begun in the late 1920s, had been postponed by mutual agreement during the war but resumed in 1945. Waikato now had a powerful and perceptive ally in Michael Jones. He accompanied Fraser and the minister of native affairs, H. G. R. Mason, to Tūrangawaewae marae, Ngāruawāhia, where Te Puea and Waikato representatives (including Pei Te Hurinui) assembled. After discussions held informally in Fraser's hotel bedroom, a settlement was proposed and agreed to on the marae the following day.

Michael Jones was associated with another major initiative of the Fraser government when he and Rangi Royal were appointed to bring into effect the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945, which the ineffective Mason had failed to fully implement. During the Second World War, Jones was one of the architects of Mason's scheme to update the Māori Councils Act; this was in opposition to Eruera Tirikatene's wish to strengthen the Māori War Effort Organisation, which had temporarily given more autonomy to Māori. When the Māori Women's Welfare Leagueee was inaugurated in 1951, as auditor Jones was influential in formulating its policy. He was chairman of the Ngāti Poneke Māori Association from 1950 until his retirement in 1962.

An accomplished Māori orator with a keen interest in the preservation and development of the language, Jones was for many years the Māori news announcer on national radio. With Pei Te Hurinui, he worked on revising and expanding Ngā mōteatea, Ngata's collection of waiata. He was examiner for the University Entrance Māori examination, chairman of the committee which revised H. W. Williams's Māori dictionary, and a member of the management committee of the Māori journal Te Ao Hou. A council member of the Polynesian Society from 1939, he became president in 1955. He was presented to Queen Elizabeth II at Waitangi in 1963.

Jones held a number of official positions from the late 1940s. He was liaison officer to the minister of Māori affairs from 1947 to 1949 and again from 1959 to 1962. In 1950 he was assistant controller of the Welfare Division of the Department of Māori Affairs. He worked as an employment officer from 1950 to 1953, and from 1953 to 1955 was deputy registrar to the Ikaroa and South Island Māori Land Court districts. Jones was also a member of the South Auckland Education Board's advisory committee on Māori education.

In 1962 Michael Jones retired to the family farm at Ōtewā, but retained an active interest in the local community and involvement with the King movement. He died at Ōtorohanga on 24 January 1978 at the tangihanga of his eldest son, Tūtahanga, and was buried beside him in the soldiers' plot in the burial ground at Te Tokanganui-a-noho marae, Te Kūiti. He was survived by six other children and his wife, Kahuwaero, who died in 1994.

How to cite this page:

Reimana Rotohiko Jones. 'Jones, Michael Rotohiko', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4j10/jones-michael-rotohiko (accessed 1 November 2020)