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Tributes flow for Maori leader, soldier

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 23/10/2016

Tributes are flowing for Noel Raihania, known as Papa Noel, a Maori leader and returned serviceman who has died, aged 89.

Mr Raihania was the last President of the 28th Maori Battalion C Company and is of Ngai Tamanuhiri, Rongomaiwahine and Ngati Porou descent.

He was born in Muriwai, worked for many years as a shearer based in Mataura and moved to Tokomaru Bay in his 60s, according to Maori Television.

In 2011 he was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and in 2014 he met Pope Francis and Prince Harry while attending the commemorations of the Battle of Cassino in Italy.

"When we heard he was in the company of HRH Prince Harry, former Governor General Jerry Mateparae, the Italian Ambassador and Pope Francisco, we were not surprised: Papa Noel was a dignitary, a leader, a rangatira, a veteran, our taonga, loved by many," says Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

He spoke up about his respect for the New Zealand flag, he was an ardent supporter of Maori politics and he was an energetic participant in every debate, she said.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party co-leader, said Mr Raihania had "a precious place in our nation's heart" as the last president of the 28th Maori Battalion C Company.

It was one of the most powerful experiences of his life to return to Italy in 2014 with his daughter, Moana-Lee, and a party of 80 descendants of C Company soldiers and to visit Forli War Cemetery where twelve of the forty-one 28th Maori Battalion Soldiers lay.

Everywhere Papa Noel went, the Italians demonstrated their enduring love and respect for the 28th Maori Battalion, Mr Flavell said.

He spoke of the "absolute dignity" of Mr Raihania's presence.

"He epitomised the expression of mana: his courage, his sacrifices and the strength of his service have made our nation richer, and for that we will always remember him with deep love." Mr Flavell said.

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