Russell (Barney) Thomas
Born and raised in Waitohi (Picton), and building a life in Blenheim and Nelson, it’s easy to see that Barney’s world is all encompassing of Te Tau Ihu – whānau, whenua and mahi.
Many others feel this about Barney as well – evident when 120 whānau, hapū and iwi attended his job interview in support of his placement for a cultural adviser role at the Department of Conservation. Since then, and for over two decades, Barney has been a Pou Tairangahau (an extensive cultural adviser) at the Department of Conservation, where he connects Te Tau Ihu tangata whenua with the Nelson/Marlborough Department of Conservation.
By ensuring conservation efforts and Māori perspectives are both brought to the table and considered, Barney’s work helps to protect our rohe in the face of current and future environmental challenges, while also upholding our rights and values as tangata whenua of Motueka and abroad in wider Te Tau Ihu.
But Barney’s mahi extends much wider than his primary role at DoC. He holds many board and kaitiaki (guardian) roles that represent us including in areas of resource management, land management, and our marae Te Āwhina.
Most importantly perhaps is the role he plays for us here at the Ngāti Rārua Ātiawa Iwi Trust. Not only is he the Deputy Chair, but also holds several valuable roles within its operation including being on the management committee of Te Uma Urupā – our hapū’s place of burial, and also leads the Te Whanake sub-committee, established to provide a platform for our hapū to achieve their educational, social and cultural aspirations.
Barney acknowledges our tūpuna who were unjustly banished from the land and experienced the mamai, as well as the many who followed and submitted letters and objections and fought hard and long for the return of the lands, including: Aunty Lulu Katene, Uncle Kopa Stafford, Barry Mason, Aunty Kate Mason Moses, Uncle Bill Stafford, Uncle Cappy MacDonald, Aunty Darkie Roberts, Ruth Rutledge, Paul Morgan, Amaroa Luke, Ruhia Manifold, Joyce and Warren Stephens, Kiwa Morgan, the Bailey whānau and members of the Nelson Race Collective. Your work to get our people to this point today is a tribute to the legacy of our tūpuna, and their struggle and commitment over 130 years.
His affiliation to several South Island iwi places him in a unique position to build relationships across a larger cohort of Māori than most, and as he says “I can wander all over the South Island and feel comfortable.” Through his mother’s side, Barney connects to Ngāti Rārua, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa, and through his father he affiliates to Ngai Tahu.
Barney’s also a keen sportsman – when in high school, he was selected for both the New Zealand Secondary School teams for cricket and rugby, and continues his passion for sport today on the Tasman Māori Rugby Board, as well as a few Iron Māori events.
He attributes his ability to give so much time to his various roles to his wife Shona, who together have three children, Renee, Fraser and Jackson, and granddaughter Sophia.
“I am very fortunate to have a very supportive and patient wife who allows for time to contribute to the many Māori entities I am involved in.”