I’m a melting pot of Māori ancestry, with English heritage coming through my grandfather, Bob Cookson. My grandparents on my biological father’s side are Wharehinga/Haenga from Waipiro and Poroporo. My grandparents on my father’s side are Te Pairi/Moeau from Tuhoe and Manutuke. My grandparents on my mother’s side are Cookson/Katipa from Rotorua and Waihirere.
I’ve spent most of my life in Gisborne, leaving to go to university and returning as quick as I could. I love Gisborne. I am a committed father and fatherhood is something I prize highly. I am dedicated to the educational, social and cultural aspirations of my six children, who go to Gisborne Boys’ High School, Te Kura Kaupapa o Horouta Wananga, Lytton High School and Gisborne Intermediate.
Early in life I grew up around drugs, alcohol and gangs. My father is an ex-dealer, labourer, church founder, musician and salesman. My mother is a baker, social worker, evangelist and adopter of stray youth. While the circumstances in which I was raised weren’t ideal I am thankful for my upbringing and the opportunities I have had as an adult. I live in Tyndall Rd, Kaiti, and enjoy the beauty and diversity around me.
I have a passion for improving community health and education, community led initiatives, supporting tertiary education, making music and research; particularly around gangs, poverty and increasing Māori outcomes.
As the Chair of the Community Organisational Grants Scheme (COGS), administered by the Department of Internal Affairs, I facilitated grants to over 200 different East Coast community organisations, totalling more than $800,000 over the last three years.
During my chairmanship of the Ka Pai Kaiti Charitable Trust (KPK) I negotiated significant financial support from the Gisborne District Council, to help the Trust with Kaiti development work over ten years. I regularly advocate on behalf of our communities at both local and national governmental levels.
I started my professional life in 2003 as a secondary school teacher, and have held a range of leadership and management roles. As Academic Advisor at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, I managed 16 staff from five degree programmes, and was responsible for the research outputs across the 80+ staff in my area and the academic quality of our delivery to 1000+ students. I’m in my final year of study towards a Masters in Traditional Māori Fatherhood in a Modern Context.
I am currently an elected councillor on the Gisborne District Council, having been voted in on the by election in 2014 and again in the 2016 general election. I sit on the Community Development Committee, Finance and Audit and the Environmental Planning & Regulations Committee. I am the deputy chair for Finance & Audit and the District Licensing Committee. Our council is tasked to serve our 50,000+ residents in our beautiful area.
I am also a board member of Te Mana Whakahaere, the governance board for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. I sit on the Academic Board and the Aotearoa Scholarships Trust. Our organisation serves the needs of tens of thousands of students every year and is the second largest tertiary education provider in Aotearoa New Zealand.
I have most recently been appointed to the Hauora Tairāwhiti District Health Board. I sit on the Community & Public Health Advisory Committee, Aged & Disability Support Advisory Committee and the Staffing & Governance Committee.
I still serve on and help different community organisations. I’m part of the parent group for East Coast Dance Crew, am on the board for Horouta Waka Hoe Waka Ama club, am an active member in the Kaiti community and on the board of trustees for Gisborne Intermediate School.