Stewart was born in Whakatane, the son of a Scottish-Maori father and Maori mother. His mother died when he was four, and when his father remarried he was adopted by the Ngati Hokopu chief, Hira Hotene, and his wife, Te Waipunohu.
His family were poor, but Stewart was sent to Te Aute boarding school for Maori boys, although he could not afford to go home for vacations. After leaving school he went to work in a Gisborne law office, then became a licensed interpreter.
He was elected to the Whakatane Borough Council in 1917, and served on the Whakatane Habour Board from 1923 to 1931. He served on the Mataatua Maori Council and was chair of the Ngati Awa tribal committee, and was a major force in local sports: tennis, rowing, golf, and rugby. He published articles on the history of the Ngati Awa tribe and was an expert in traditional knowledge and ceremonial language. He campaigned to prevent local Maori sacred sites from being destroyed by Europeans, and sometimes succeeded. He helped in the fight for the restoration of confiscated Maori land and helped prevent more land from reverting to the crown by himself paying overdue rates for poor owners.
He and his wife had 11 children.
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