Graduate Profile

Sheryl Mai - Mayor of Whangārei

Sheryl Mai - Te Reo

Mayor of Whangārei

“On my first Mayoral campaign trail back in 2013, someone asked me whether would I learn Te Reo if I became Mayor. I said yes. And I have. It was something I had always wanted to do so this laid down the challenge and opportunity to commit to it.”

“Because 27% of our community is Māori, I wanted to learn Te Reo to honour the people of our region, and for my own integrity as someone in a leadership role here. Our council meetings are now opened with karakia, and I use Te Reo in ceremonies of civic honours, citizenship events, and gatherings involving people from overseas. ”

“In learning Te Reo we learn so much more than a language. It’s the gateway into the depths of a whole culture. As well as the basics of the language, we learned marae protocol and had the privilege of learning about ngā rā o mua (the days of old) including stories and traditions of Ngapuhi, so rooted in our region.”

“I was fascinated by the method of teaching known as Te Ataarangi, which uses form, colour and pattern to help us remember words and phrases for karakia, mihi, and waiata. Another stand-out for me researching our own personal history or whakapapa. It was quite an emotional process and everyone was very supportive of each other. Initially I felt self-conscious as a pakeha coming into a class with others for whom Māori tikanga and Te Reo was innate, but there was such a sense of inclusion and we all learnt together.”

“Having done the course, I feel I honour the people who live in our district more. I’ve always been a people person but there is another layer of respect in using someone’s language. I also now have the benefit of being able to understand more of the speeches. I’ve learnt enough kupu (words) to get some meaning, and I also now recognise the sequence that a speech has.”

“With Te Kārearea, our Whangarei District Council’s strategic partnership forum with Māori, we go around different marae to bring issues to our attention. These sessions also offer a chance to see varying marae protocols, and the fact than I’m a woman in a leadership position can create a conundrum for some marae where woman don’t speak. In these cases they usually complete their formal protocol, then I can speak.”

“I’m still at the baby stage in my learning of Te Reo and tikanga Māori. The next step for me is to keep Te Reo alive personally by continuing to use it at every opportunity and I’ve set myself the challenge of changing my mihi to suit different scenarios.”

“In the future I’d like to learn more Te Reo, and I hope that Te Puna o Te Mātauranga Marae here at NorthTec continues to be a recognised place to nurture and teach it. Having the facility here shows commitment by NorthTec to the people who live here. It is ours, and here for us to use.”