Karaka Roberts was born under a karaka tree at Spirits Bay, the youngest son of Rapata Hoterene and Maro Motu Hoterene; he grew up in Te Hapua. He attended Te Hapua Native School and then received a scholarship to study at Te Kao College where he remained for two years until his father’s ill health required him to return home to care for his father.
As a skilled orator and speaker of te reo Māori, Roberts has spent many years teaching the Māori language and has been called upon to judge the Korimako Speech Competitions for Secondary Schools in Otago and Southland during the 1970s, and Te Puka a Maui Cultural Competitions in the 1980s-90s.
From 1957-83, he was actively involved in teaching Maori to adults and children with Arai-Te Uru Māori Club. As a long-term member of the Arai-Te Uru Marae Council (Inc), he assisted in the erection of the new marae buildings, served as Vice-Chairman, and is currently a Kaumatua at the marae. From 1984-1992, he has served as a member, treasurer and chair of Arai-Te-Uru Te Kohanga Reo. In 1988, Roberts was appointed a licensed interpreter for the District Court by the Māori Language Commission. He became a language consultant to the Otago Museum Director and taught Māori at Otago Polytechnic night school classes.
From 1989-1994, Roberts was Pou Awhina for the Department of Māori Studies at the University of Otago. During this time, he co-convened MAOR 319, a third year paper in Māori Studies, which he taught in Māori. He was also an oral assessor for 200-400 level Māori papers.
Alongside his work fostering te reo Māori, Roberts has spent many years supporting youth and adults who were under the care of the Social Welfare and prison system. He is an active voluntary Community Officer for the former Department of Māori Affairs and has been a regular support visitor in Social Welfare homes, Wakari Psychiatric Unit and the Dunedin Prison. He and his wife Marie have provided home and care for boys requiring interim whanau support.
Roberts is a qualified Minister of the Ratana Church and conducts church services and youth advisory counselling. He also officiates at tangi. He is Kaumatua for many organisations and institutions including Otago Girls’ High School, Kavanagh College, New Zealand Māori Nurses’ Association, Otago Southland Rugby league Youth Club, Dunedin College of Education, Aoraki Polytechnic, Otago Polytechnic, ACC Dispute Resolution Services (Te Ratonga Whakatau Wenerau), the Schizophrenia Fellowship Dunedin, and the Dunedin Branch of the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind. He is a member and past chairman of Taitokerau Whanau ki Otepoti.
Roberts has been a broadcaster of Māori news on the weekly National Radio programme since 1977 and is TVNZ contact person for Te Karere in the Otago area.
In 1973 Roberts was bestowed Honorary Member of the Māori Women’s Welfare League’s Ōtepoti Branch because of his valuable assistance locally and nationally. In 1998 he was awarded the Q.S.O. for community service in the New Year Honours.
- Phone conversations and correspondence with Karaka Roberts, March 1993, August 1998, 31 August 2004 and 9 August 2005.