‘Calm’ health advocate among 18 Pasifika recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

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Dr Collin Tukuitonga
Knighthood for Auckland University health academic Dr Collin Tukuitonga ... “calm and steady voice for immunisation in the Pacific." Image: SPC

By Susana Suisuiki, RNZ Pacific journalist, and Eleisha Foon, journalist

Pacific health advocate and champion Dr Collin Fonotau Tukuitonga heads the list of Pacific recipients in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2022.

This year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours coincide with the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years as monarch, so have been renamed the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours.

Associate Professor Tukuitonga, a Niuean, and the the inaugural Associate Dean Pacific and associate professor of public health in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, has received the Knights Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Pacific and public health.

“Over the past two years he has been a calm and steady voice for immunisation in the Pacific,” said Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio.

Sir Collin joins 17 other Pacific people also recognised for their contributions to health, education, sport, the arts and many other sectors.

Sir Collin has been active in the covid-19 response information, particularly for the Pasifika community.

He said he was humbled to have been nominated.

“I wasn’t aware that this was happening, so it’s a humbling experience,” he said.

“I’m thankful to be acknowledged, I should also say that it’s not just myself, I think it’s an acknowledgement of all the people involved and I’m just fortunate to have been nominated — there are lots of people in our community who do the work day and day out.”

Sir Collin plans on celebrating his achievement with his children but hopes to be able to visit Niue soon.

Sports
Leaupepe Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote-Taylor has also been honoured for services to cricket and Pacific communities.

Leaupepe retired from cricket and signed off as New Zealand’s most successful test batsman, with 7683 runs including 19 centuries from 112 matches between 2007 and 2022, with a batting average of 44.66 runs.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play cricket for the Black Caps for several years and thoroughly enjoyed it, and being able to help others both on and off the field,” he said.

Ross Taylor and family after his final test for the Black Caps
Ross Taylor and family after his final test for the Black Caps … the second test against Bangladesh at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on 11 January 2022. Image: RNZ/Photosport

Leaupepe said contributing to the Pacific community is something he wants to continue doing.

“I’m a proud Kiwi and I’m a proud Samoan as well. I’ve been fortunate to have the platform to give back throughout my career and now that I’m retired I look forward to giving back more.”

Having received numerous awards throughout his cricket career, Leaupepe said being honoured by the Queen was “extra special”.

“As a cricketer, you want to do your best to your ability but to be recognised like this — it’s not just for me, it’s my teammates who have helped me out and my family and friends who sacrificed a lot for me.”

Arts
New Zealand-born Samoan opera singer Jonathan Lemalu is in disbelief after being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to opera.

Lemalu is a Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone who has been performing internationally for more than 20 years.

He said it was a complete surprise to be awarded the honour.

Bass Jonathan Lemalu and Virtuoso Strings rehearse
Bass Jonathan Lemalu and Virtuoso Strings rehearse. Image: RNZ/Ana Tovey

“I honestly didn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke,” Lemalu said.

“Hilarious in a way because it didn’t sound like something that would be happening to me. Mum got a Queen’s Honours in 2006 for services to the Pacific community. It felt cool in a way to follow in her footsteps.”

Education
Mangere College Deputy Principal Melegalenuu Ah Sam was also in shock when she found out she was on the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022 list.

Melegalenu’u Ah Sam has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Pacific language education.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Ah Sam established Samoan language teaching at the college, later driving the addition of Cook Islands Māori and Lea Faka-Tonga.

She led the establishment of the Languages ‘L Block’ at the college in 2012, as a hub for Māori and Pacific learning in language and culture.

One of the Samoan stage coordinators, Melegalenuu Ah Sam.
Melegalenuu Ah Sam … has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Pacific language education. Image: Mabel Muller/RNZ

“I paused — and then I read the email again,” Ah Sam said.

“And then I just said a short prayer. I feel humbled, I just want to thank the people that recognised the work that myself and my colleagues and everyone else in the education sector are doing.

“For me personally I’m not expecting any rewards, I’m not expecting anything like this, I do it because I love working in education and I love teaching. So to be nominated is a privilege and an honour.”

Ah Sam said growing up in Samoa, her parents were her best role models.

“My parents played a huge part in my life. They made sure that we strived to be the best we can be — my mother was a nurse, and my dad was a Samoan judge,” she said.

“I didn’t feel that I wanted to get into nursing, but they allowed me to come to New Zealand on a scholarship and they instilled in my sisters and brothers the importance of achievement and success in whatever field.”

Other Pasifika people recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2022:

  • Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Bridget Snedden, for services to people with learning disabilities
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Lesi Atoni, for services to the Tokelau community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Sandra Borland, for services to nursing and the Pacific community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Matthew (Mataio) Brown, for services to mental health and the prevention of family violence
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Siaosi Fa’alogo, for services to the New Zealand police and the community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Dr Linita Manu’atu, for services to Pacific education and the Tongan community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Tolupene Peau, for services to the Tokelau community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Bill Urale, for services to music and the community
  • Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit: Kiriovea Jasmin McSweeney, for services to the film industry
  • Queen’s Service Medal: Gabrielle-Sisifo Makisi, for services to Pacific communities and education
  • Queen’s Service Medal: Reverend Salafai Mika, for services to church ministry and the Samoan community
  • Queen’s Service Medal: Reverend Hiueni Nuku, for services to Tongan and Pacific communities
  • Queen’s Service Medal: Vaipou Saluni, for services to education and the Pacific community
  • Queen’s Service Medal: Luther Toloa, for services to the Pacific community

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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