As a child of Pacific heritage growing up in 1980s/90s New Zealand, I can honestly say that a diverse range of Pacific role-models was not obvious or well-known. High profile role models tended to come from the sporting arena; Michael Jones, Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Peau, Rita Fatialofa, Olo Brown, Ana Noovao, Pat Lam to name a few. The music industry also provided the likes of Ardijah, Che Fu, Annie Crummer and OMC.
Politically, New Zealand didn’t gain it’s first MP of Pacific Island descent until 1993 (in the form of the now disgraced Taito Phillip Field). Luamanuvao Winnie Laban became the first female Pacific Island MP in 1999.
I don’t think I ever met or knew a doctor or Pacific heritage. In fact, apart from one cousin, I didn’t know anyone else in my wider extended family who attended university.
My how things have changed.
As the generations change and evolve, I am so pleased to see the visibility of Pacific people across a range of different industries. Whilst representation is still lacking across senior level positions, I feel optimistic about this growing voice and love seeing these people and stories being celebrated and made known in the media.
So here a few of the New Zealanders of Pacific Island heritage who I admire for their skills, talents and strong sense of identity. And no, they are not sportspeople!
Courtney Sina Meredith
I first heard Courtney Sina Meredith perform at a Poetry Slam, then years later on a panel at a ‘LATE at the Museum’ event in Auckland. Both times she was captivating. Courtney is a wordsmith, a storyteller, an orator, a poet, a voice of the Pacific. She was quoted as saying; “I see my Samoan culture as an abundance of love and coming from a place where we work together. And I have always wanted to tap into those deep cultural values and also to try and use my gifts, whatever it is that I am doing with my life, along the last decade, for other young Samoans coming through as well.” Her latest book ‘Tail of the Taniwha’ is bold and honest. The Pacific never seemed so energized.
Junior Niuafe Malupo
As the owner and chief cake maker of Niu Cakery, Junior Niuafe Malupo creates stylish and funky celebration cakes from his popular New Lynn shop. His cakes have a huge following on social media, with his youth (he is in his 20s) and Tongan heritage helping him create a brand that is vibrant and contemporary. He readily acknowledges the importance of his family and culture and was even invited to make a cake for the daughter of the Princess of Tonga!
It was music to my ears (no pun intended!) when I first heard Sol3 Mio perform their operatic stylings on the radio and TV. Dad told me how many years ago, the Pati brothers (Pene and Amitai) came to his workplace in Mangere to sing and fundraise some money. The Aorere College students appeared shy and awkward, but totally filled the room with energy when they sang. Since those humble days, the brothers joined their cousin Moses Mackay to form Sol3 Mio and they have been performed to packed stadiums and concert houses across the world. They have also carved out successful solo careers too. In addition to traditional opera, they also sing Kiwi and Samoan songs, and in true Pacific fashion, crack jokes along the way.
Leilani Tamu is a poet, historian, and social commentator of Samoan, Tongan, Scottish and German heritage. She also worked as a diplomat for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including postings to Tonga and Australia. I heard Leilani speak at a panel discussion event focused on the Treaty of Waitangi, and I was impressed with her ability to speak confidently and passionately about Maori and Pacific people. This carried through when she stood as the Green Party candidate for New Lynn in last year’s election. Leilani is a compelling orator and writer and I admire her tenacity and unwavering belief in supporting people and communities. Her new book Cultural Diplomacy is available now.
Joseph is a local church pastor, community leader and author/storyteller. Not only has he written two children’s books to help young people with bullying and self-esteem issues, he also works with local agencies to develop mental health strategies and suicide prevention campaigns. He is one of the founders of the HopeWalk Suicide Prevention Movement. I attended one of the organised walks where hundreds of people met (all dressed in yellow) to raise awareness of suicide. Joseph addressed the crowd and I was immediately impressed with his strong ability to connect with everyone. Of Samoan descent, Joshua is an accomplished speaker who has gained acclaim in NZ and internationally.