Lee Timutimu standing next to his uncle Joe Harawira at their ancestral whare Mataatua in Whakatāne.
Lee Timutimu Age 16, at Kamehana, Honolulu.
Lee Timutimu (Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Porou) lends the work he does today around Māori storytelling and revitalisation to his strong tikanga and te ao Māori foundation, nurtured during his time at St Stephen’s School | Tīpene.
As the eldest grandson and coming from a line of men who attended Tīpene, including his father and seven uncles, Lee says he was destined to go to Tīpene and follow in the footsteps of the tāne before him.
Coming from a humble Whakatāne whānau, Lee describes his younger self as a boy who was directionless and aimless due to a lack of exposure to both role models and opportunity growing up.
It wasn’t until he arrived at Tīpene that he realised the full extent of his academic capabilities, following emphatic encouragement of his kaiako. “My teachers, Mr Sorenson (A.K.A. “Sorry”) and Mr Murray (A.K.A. “Gumbies”) saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he says. He went on to achieve top of his 5th Form (Year 11) year group and was Dux of St Stephen’s in 1992.
Being recognised as the top 5th Form student gave him the opportunity of a lifetime: a one year student exchange at Kamehameha, a prestigious boarding school in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Lee describes this opportunity as one of the best times of his life and a pivotal moment in his growth and development as a young man.
“It was a life changing experience – and so out of this world for me at the time. It was an opportunity that, had I not gone to Tīpene, I wouldn’t have received, for sure.”
Reflecting on how his time at Tīpene shaped him to be who he is today, Lee says it gave him the opportunity to grow into himself and chart a better pathway for his future: space and time away from the everyday which was seeing him spiral, allowed him to take charge of his own life.
More significantly, Lee says, was the school’s strong focus on tikanga and te ao Māori, which continues to be reflected in who he is and the work he does today. He is the CEO and Founder of Arataki Systems, a digital storytelling platform that connects people with te ao Māori and Māori culture.
“Tīpene really focused on how important it is to be Māori and represent Māoridom. This gave me a strong foundation to feel proud of who I am and where I come from,” says Lee, who believes the encouragement of pride in being Māori as something that sets Tīpene apart from other kura.
Lee sums up his five years at Tīpene as a growth journey more than anything. He passed through the Tīpene gates as a shy, hesitant boy and left a confident, high achieving young man. Being removed from his environment and expected to become independent gave him the life shakeup he needed. Lee believes that sometimes this kind of disruption can bring out one’s true mana. “The attributes I already possessed – without realising – were awakened at St Stephen’s. I don’t think it’s too much to say that had I not gone to Tīpene, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”