In 1998 Garry Nicholas attend the 1st meeting of Canadian Native Artists in Ottawa. Garry was invited by the Canadian Arts Council to speak on the behalf of Toi Māori as a representation for the indigenous artists. On the last evening of the conference, Garry attended a screening of a film about the Tahltan-Tlingit artist leader, Dempsey Bob, and took the opportunity to introduce himself. Ending their conversation on good terms, Dempsey provided a copy of the film for Toi Māori.
The next day, as Garry was boarding his flight to Calgary, he found himself sitting and talking with Dempsey Bob and his nephew Stan Bevan. Dempsey ended the conversation with one last request
Dempsey quoted “Now you invite me to New Zealand!”
Toi Māori Aotearoa and Te Runanga Whakairo
In 2002, Toi Māori Aotearoa established Te Runanga Whakairo, the national carvers committee, which was inaugurated at Pātaka Museum in Porirua during the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. Garry proposed that Te Runanga Whakairo created a waka for Toi Māori Aotearoa to connect with carvers and indigenous art communities of the Northwest Coast. Darcy Nicholas, General Manager of Community Services at Porirua City Council and Director of Pātaka, recommended that Dempsey was invited to Aotearoa to develop this proposal.
Hosted by the Mataatua roopu, Ngā Waka Toi, led by Tepene and Hine Mamaku in 2003, Dempsey immediately recognised the spirit of his own people in Aotearoa and enthusiastically responded to the concept of a waka tētēkura to bind relationships between peoples and provide leadership training for rangatahi. Dempsey generously donated the proceeds from the sale of one of his sculptures to initiate the construction of a waka tētēkura and was adopted by the Mamaku whānau as a member of Ngā Waka Toi. He Awhi Tikanga, of which Tepene Mamaku was a long-standing member, and Te Runanga Whakairo also contributed to the construction fund.
In early 2006, Hekenukumai Busby began the construction of the waka hiwi (hull) with felled logs selected from Pureora Forest in the Central North Island, a process facilitated by He Awhi Tikanga Chair and Pouwhakahaera at the Department of Conservation. After careful examination of the logs at his Aurere workshop, Hector determined that the logs were unsuitable—full of dry rot after sixty years on lying on the forest floor. This finding threatened to postpone the project until Hector offered one of his own logs, though this was shorter than the average length of a waka tētēkura.
Hector completed the 14m long and 1.5m wide waka hiwi in late 2006. In January 2007, Te Runanga Whakairo master carvers, Jack Brooking and Tamati Holmes travelling to Aurere to work with Hector on the tauihu, taurapa and rauawa incorporating an eagle mask completed by Dempsey Bob and his nephew, Stan Bevan. Finally, Teresa Reihana added painted colour to the carvings.