By Laurens Ikinia
“Noa’ia ‘e” is a greeting people hear when you meet anyone from the island of Rotuma in Fiji or when they visit the Whānau Community Hub in Auckland’s Mount Roskill.
This doubles as the Rotuman-Fijian Community Centre.
It is run by Rachel Mario and her team for a whole host of purposes — a range of different programmes and activities.
On any day they could be delivering grocery parcels, health and wellbeing classes, or training community elders (Wednesdays), language and financial literacy classes for children (Saturdays), and leadership training,
You name it and they’re probably doing it.
Mario says the centre hasn’t only been hosting the Rotuman whānau, but it’s also a “home” for other stakeholders such as Asia Pacific Media Network, government agencies, and faith communities.
As chair of the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group Inc., Mario now wants to throw in her leadership hat for the local board.
Standing for Puketāpapa
So she is standing for the Roskill Community Voice team for Puketāpapa Local Board (Mount Roskill).
She loves doing social work and hopes that she and her team will be elected in the October election — and she vows to keep working hard to be the voice of the wider, diverse community in Mount Roskill.
Apart from running the busy programmes at the centre for her Rotuman community and other whānau, Mario has been advocating about issues of social injustice that her community has been facing for years.
Some of these issues include the housing crisis and alleged discrimination on distribution over resources for the Rotuman Language Week celebrations.
“The biggest challenge, which isn’t fair, is the discrimination against us, the Rotuman community. In the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, they want to run a rival language week up against ours,” she says.
“We started in 2018. In 2019, because they didn’t want to list our language week, they didn’t want to list anything we do regarding our endangered indigenous language.
In response to a question from Tagata Pasifika about the allegations of discrimination faced by Mario’s group, the Minister of the Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio denied this, saying he was disappointed to hear about it.
However, in spite of the challenges, the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group successfully ran the language programme in May.
Other issues include the cultural identity of children born from intercultural marriages. However, the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group has embraced all children who have Rotuman blood.
TeRito Peyroux, a member of Rotuman Congregation at Kingsland Methodist Church, says that for those who could not speak Rotuman, “we are who we are, it’s much bigger than our language fluency.”
“It is about our sense of belonging and the people that are nurturing and supporting and being with us. For me, that means that having the privilege of celebrating language and culture in this foreign land makes me very humble,” she says.
Tupou Tee Kamoe, who is also one of the executive members of the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group, cites a quote from Green MP Teanau Tuiono that he had made in his maiden speech in Parliament which she has adapted for bicultural Rotumans:
“People often ask me, ‘am I half Rotuman, half Pacific’, and I say ‘na bro, I am not half anything, I am whole, if anything I am double — if I was a beer I would be double brown, if I was a flavour at the dairy, I would be twice as nice at only half the price.”
Laurens Ikinia is a postgraduate communication studies student at Auckland University of Technology and is a frequent contributor to Asia Pacific Report.