Leadership Network's growing
diversity reflects wider change - network member

Areti Metuamate looks back on visiting South Korea with the Foundation's Leadership Network and reflects on what it revealed about how the Network has changed over the 10 years he's been a member.
Black and white pic of man standing and speaking in front of seated group

Leadership Network members listen to a kaumatua speak at Rehua Marae in Christchurch

Kia ora! I’ve been a member of the Leadership Network for around 10 years now. When I joined there weren’t many of us who were Māori or Pacific Islanders. I am stoked to know that this is no longer the case and we have an increasingly diverse group of people involved today.

Over these 10 or so years, I have met a lot of amazing people, participated in some fantastic forums and workshops (including running one on ‘how to mihi’ a few years back), and performed a fair few waiata and haka on behalf of the Network.

I have also been fortunate to travel to Asia a few times with some incredibly impressive Network members and superb Asia New Zealand Foundation staff.

Having been one of those heavily-engaged young people throughout my years at university, I have been involved in loads of networks and leadership groups – Māori, Pasifika, Catholic, and general ones – but none have been as valuable and strong as the Foundation’s Leadership Network has become.

My recent trip to South Korea for the second 2017 Offshore Forum reminded me of this. Before we left, Masina Taulapapa asked me to run a session on tikanga Māori, which I agreed to do although I was not sure how the other delegates would engage.

“My trip to South Korea ... was particularly meaningful to me because it showed how much the Network, and perhaps our country in general, has grown in its understanding and engagement in tikanga and te reo Māori.”

In preparing my PowerPoint presentation, I wasn’t sure what level I needed to pitch my presentation to (basic, intermediate, advanced). Well, to my surprise and great joy not only was my PowerPoint too basic, it was almost redundant as many (if not most) of the delegation were well and truly aware of basic tikanga Māori and how to give a mihi. And on top of that, most of them knew a waiata or two as well! My, how times have changed these past 10 years!

As the Offshore Forum went on, I was delighted to hear from other delegates how they had been encouraged to mihi at previous Network events, and from the delegates who were MFAT staffers that they knew the words (and actions – ka pai Nedra!) to Tutira Mai Nga Iwi.

I had an overwhelming sense of pride in being part of a group that was so representative of our country – a group of people from a range of cultures who seemed to understand and respect the fact New Zealand has a bicultural foundation.

I have long advocated that the face of New Zealand should be reflective of both the bicultural foundation, and multicultural reality that it is today. I have lobbied senior staff in MFAT and Ministers to put pressure on them to ensure our diplomatic representatives demonstrate competency in tikanga and reo Māori.

MFAT has improved in this space these past 10 years (in no small part due to Matua Martin Wikaira’s efforts) but not near as much as the Network has. In saying that, I was delighted to see that not only did our Ambassador to South Korea, Clare Fearnley, begin her talk with us in Māori, later that night at the Ambassador’s residence, while her and her team performed Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, she was the one doing the actions! Fantastic. That is the face of New Zealand we ought to see more of.

Group of people watching cultural event happen in front of them

Areti says the trip to South Korea not only taught him about Korean culture but showed him how far the network, and perhaps NZ as a whole, has come with regards to understanding tikanga Māori

There’s a school of thought that believes it is not necessary for non-Māori diplomats to be able to give a mihi because it looks too much like tokenism. I don’t agree with that. It is not tokenism, it is respect.

When a diplomat gets up in another country and gives a mihi, it shows people that we not only know who we are as a country – a multicultural nation with a bicultural foundation – but we also value where we come from. Every New Zealander has the right to use te reo Māori to help them identify who they are and where they come from – te reo Māori does not just belong to Māori, it also belongs to New Zealand.

So while my trip to South Korea was insightful because of the many interesting elements of Korea’s great culture – the language, the regional politics, the arts, the cuisine, the noraebang (karaoke), and not to mention the soju! – it was particularly meaningful to me because it showed how much the Network, and perhaps our country in general, has grown in its understanding and engagement in tikanga and te reo Māori.

Ka nui rā te mihi!