James Clendon (Himi Te Nana) Tau Hēnare was born at Mōtatau in the Bay of Islands on 18 November 1911, the youngest of six sons and one of eight children of Hera Paerata and her husband, Taurekareka (Tau) Hēnare, then farming tribal land. James’s father was of Ngāti Whātua and Ngāpuhi ancestry with membership of many hapū, most notably Ngāti Hine. His mother was of Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu and Te Aupōuri. The family’s ancestry, with Rāhiri as common progenitor, connected them to a number of great northern warrior chiefs, including Kawiti and Hōne Heke. James was also the great-grandson of Colonel Robert Wynyard, who led British troops in the northern wars. His ancestral waka were Ngā-toki-mata-whao-rua, Māmari, Mamaru, Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi, Mātaatua, Tainui, Tākitimu, Horouta and Te Arawa, indicating his links to Waikato, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Taranaki and Te Arawa.
James’s first years were spent on his family’s marae at Mōtatau. His father’s election as MP for Northern Māori in 1914 changed the family’s lifestyle markedly. James’s primary school education reflected this, with enrolments at Mōtatau Native School and Takapuna, Awanui and Thorndon schools. His mother, Hera, died during the 1918 influenza epidemic.
Marked from childhood for special guidance by his elders, Hēnare was told that, as well as receiving a Pākehā education, he had to be trained in Māori whakapapa and tikanga, in order to fully serve his people in later life. At the age of 14 he was a graduate of the last Ngāti Hine whare wānanga, at Taumārere, where he was instructed in the sacred elements of Māori life under tohunga Hāre Whiro.
The influence of northern and national Māori leaders was strong in the young Hēnare’s life. Nicknamed ‘The Bishop’ because of his grave manner, he was closely associated with Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), a former Northern Māori MP and Department of Health medical officer familiar with the Hēnare home at Mōtatau. Occasionally journeying to Wellington with his father, James also spent time at the homes of Māori MPs Sir James Carroll and Sir Māui Pōmare.
Hēnare won a scholarship to Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay, but because of his father’s friendship with the Catholic Bishop H. W. Cleary, he was sent to Sacred Heart College in Auckland. After finishing his high school education, he enrolled at Massey Agricultural College, at his father’s urging, to study for a diploma of dairy technology. Illness prevented completion of his study, and he was employed by the Hikurangi dairy co-operative company in Northland. In the 1930s Hēnare worked as a bushman, farm labourer and as secretary for his father, accompanying him in his official duties. When a Māori land development scheme was initiated in Ngāti Hine territory, he became its foreman. Land use was a particular interest to both James and his father, who travelled extensively throughout the North Island inspecting development schemes. James was himself engaged in breaking in farmland at Mōtatau.
On 2 August 1933, at Ōtīria in the Bay of Islands, Hēnare married Roiho Keretene (Rose Cherrington) of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu; the ceremony was performed by her uncle, Canon Wiremu Cherrington. Distant cousins, the couple had been betrothed as infants at the behest of their grandfathers under the customary practice of tomo, but Hēnare was not told of this until he was 21. He was a lay reader in the Anglican church from the late 1930s, and was later a member of the Auckland synod for over 20 years.
His father’s death in 1940 saw him assume a leadership role. This was further reinforced by Tau Hēnare’s death-bed exhortations to his son to serve in the war. As the māngai (spokesperson) for northern Māori, Tau Hēnare felt responsible for sending young Māori to their deaths in the First World War. This burden, he believed, could now be relieved by his own son’s enlistment. James Hēnare underwent the ritual of karaka whati, performed to prepare a warrior for battle. It was carried out by an elderly tohunga (a direct descendant of Te Kēmara, the great Ngāpuhi tohunga, sage and seer) at a gathering of chiefs and elders at Mōtatau marae. At the completion of the ritual Hēnare was pronounced fit for battle.
Enrolling as a private in the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion, Hēnare quickly attained a commission in August 1940, training as an officer at Trentham Military Camp. He left New Zealand with the 5th Reinforcements and served with the Māori Battalion in the North African and Italian campaigns from 1941 to 1945. He was promoted to captain in 1942 and to major in September 1944. From platoon commander, he rose to become company commander of A and later Headquarters companies, then in June 1945 succeeded Arapeta Awatere as commanding officer of the battalion, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Wounded at El Alamein in October 1942, Hēnare was mentioned in dispatches and in 1946 was made a DSO. The citation noted his fearlessness and courage, singling out his company command at Cassino in February 1944 and inspirational leadership in action in 1945.
The battalion was ready for engagement in the Pacific when Japan surrendered and Hēnare brought his men home to New Zealand in January 1946. War experience matured Hēnare: he believed he had acquired greater ability to concentrate and to discern the essentials in any situation, and that he had become more methodical.
Declining an offer from Te Puea Hērangi of a Waikato farm and a leadership role amongst her people, he returned to his farm at Mōtatau. Apart from a period in Auckland as district Māori welfare officer (1951–56) with responsibility for Auckland city, South Auckland and Tai Tokerau, he was to live at Mōtatau until the mid 1970s, when he retired to Kawiti, near Ōrauta.
James Hēnare’s post-war life was marked by a commitment to public service, education and leadership of his people. His father had fought for recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi throughout his life, and James continued this commitment, stating, ‘It is the burden of Taitokerau to argue the Treaty’. He had been a member of Te Rūnanga o te Tiriti o Waitangi, a committee of descendants of the chiefs who signed the treaty, from 1928; at the time of his death he was its only surviving member. He had known the sons of men who had signed the treaty, and believed the signatory chiefs knew what was at stake and saw the document as tapu. It was, he argued, the mana of the treaty that allowed Pākehā to live in New Zealand. Just as his father had a close relationship with Te Puea, so did James with the Māori King, Korokī, and his successor, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.
Hēnare was emphatic that New Zealanders had to become truly bicultural before they could become multicultural, and he was critical of certain Pākehā attitudes and condescension. He saw Māori values of personal relationships, relaxed lifestyles, hospitality and creative skills as beneficial to the country as a whole. Although not regarded as an activist, Hēnare had strong views, which he invariably explained in a reasoned manner. He was not greatly concerned about the heat generated by debates on the treaty as he believed there were reserves of goodwill on both sides. His personal mana was marked by a statesmanlike demeanour, a positive adherence to Māori values and an unfailing courtesy.
Ideologically he was inclined to a liberal outlook rather than a rigid adherence to party politics. After standing unsuccessfully for the New Zealand National Party in Northern Māori in 1946, he was asked by Prime Minister Peter Fraser to stand for the New Zealand Labour Party in 1949; Hēnare declined as he felt that a successful bid could be seen as opportunism. When the sitting member for Northern Māori, T. P. Paikea, died in 1963, Hēnare contested the seat for National, but lost by 454 votes to Labour’s Matiu Rata.
He had attended the first Young Māori Conference in Auckland in 1939. He succeeded his father as a member of the Waitangi National Trust Board in 1940 and was organising secretary of the Waitangi centennial celebrations that year. He also played a prominent role during the royal tours of 1953–54 and 1963. Locally, he served on the Mōtatau Māori committee, the Mōtatau, Waiōmio and Ōtīria marae trusts, the Kawakawa Tribal Executive and Tai Tokerau district Māori committee. A strong supporter of education, he served on various bodies including an education board advisory committee and a national advisory committee on Māori education.
By advancing the causes of his people, James Hēnare raised the country’s consciousness of Māori perspectives. He was chief national spokesperson of the Wānanga Kaumātua Māori and represented Tai Tokerau at a range of hui. He represented New Zealand at the unveiling of the Cassino war memorial in 1956 and at Waitangi Day celebrations at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii in 1980. In 1984 he was chief orator at the opening of Te Māori exhibition in New York. A member of the Rehabilitation Board, the New Zealand Geographic Board, the Board of Māori Affairs, the Bay of Islands County Council, Tai Tokerau Māori Trust Board and the Bay of Islands Maritime and Historic Park Board, he was also active in the Order of St John, the RSA, Rotary and Federated Farmers of New Zealand.
Hēnare’s mana and patience were illustrated by his talks with activist Eva Rickard and her supporters at Waitangi in 1984, and by his 1988 diplomacy over the renaming of Hongi’s Track at Rotoiti. His adherence to his father’s desire for service to his people was exemplified by his refusal of an overseas posting as a high commissioner. His dedication was recognised when he was made a CBE in 1966 and a KBE in 1978. He also received Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Medal (1953) and Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), and an honorary LLD from the University of Auckland (1986). In the 1980s he was tipped to become New Zealand’s first Māori governor general, an honour which was instead bestowed on Sir Paul Reeves.
James and Rose Hēnare had six children, and adopted five more. Rose provided over 50 years of support for her husband, and her commitment to Māori initiatives was reflected in her patronage of the kōhanga reo movement. James Hēnare’s work has been carried on by his children, nephews and nieces, who have embraced the concepts of service and striving for social equity in law, education and public service. Perhaps his most lasting contribution was his role in helping to found the kōhanga reo programme to teach the Māori language to pre-school children. His skilled advocacy and chairmanship of the Wānanga Whakatauira’s Māori-language group were crucial in establishing the movement.
Sir James Hēnare died at Kawakawa on 2 April 1989, survived by his wife and children. His tangihanga at Ōtīria marae, Moerewa, was attended by the Māori Queen, the governor general, the prime minister and former war comrades. He was buried at Mōtatau with full military honours.