Humble, courageous, and selfless are some words that spring to mind after listening to and sitting with Josiah Tualamali’i. He told me about his passion for young people, mental health and wellbeing, the value and importance found in Māori and Pasifika voice, and why Ōtautahi will always be home.
At the heart of everything Josiah has accomplished it is clear that young people are the focus. From co-founding the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Council (PYLAT), to accompanying the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Samoa, Niue, Tonga, and the Cook Islands to represent New Zealand’s Pacific Young People, to being appointed along with 6 other people to lead an inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction in New Zealand. There are many more things I could also add. With a global and local perspective and influence on mental health, youth voice and participation, and a passion for enabling and empowering Pasifika and Māori youth, Josiah still calls Ōtautahi home.
When asked if he’d ever move somewhere else? Josiah replies,
“Move somewhere else? Maybe for a time, but this is the area I love the most and the place I can contribute to the most. It’s a random thought, but I find the airport the most helpful place for me. Obviously, I have to be climate-conscious, but from Christchurch International Airport we can literally take routes almost anywhere. There’s comfort in the fact that I’ll come back home, and take the experiences and learnings from my overseas work around the world and be able to invest it back here.
Josiah provided some core moments in which he believes have changed and shaped him and have led to where he is today.
“For me, a core moment was the value of knowledge which was encouraged by family. I grew up with my Grandparents and Parents and naturally their interests became mine. They would watch the news and read the newspaper all the time. It was those things – being informed and connected which cultivated something within me from an early age. It was the tactile nature of a newspaper and the action of having to pull them away from my Grandparent’s so that I could read them, that cultivated and encouraged this appreciation for knowledge”
“Another core moment was realising the value of connection and the strength that is found in cultural identity. In 2014, I went to the Pacific Youth Leadership Parliament. It was there that there was a space of acceptance for who I was. I was born in New Zealand, in Dunedin actually, but growing up not learning Samoan - I don’t know for a while I really struggled with identity. But in that space, there was an acceptance for all of who I was. It didn’t matter about the statistics that I was sometimes stereotyped into, in that space, there was something I could contribute. I felt valued, heard and empowered that my voice is important. That Pasifika and Māori voice is important. I’d never really experienced that before”
“And for Christchurch? Why Christchurch?” He pauses, and thinks for a moment,
“I think I found purpose here in Christchurch after coming back from the Pacific Youth Parliament, through my involvement with PYLAT and growing up through the earthquakes. I guess I have this optimism that Pasifika and Māori indigenous knowledge brings a different outcome. There’s a unique reminder that can be found in Christchurch and the rebuild - in that better outcomes can occur from Māori and Pasifika knowledge. I’m not saying we’re fully there yet, but the rebuild has definitely provided some space for this voice and knowledge. I also see Christchurch as a way in which we can connect with our Pacific neighbours and I guess that’s an important question as well – What is Christchurch doing for others?”
On reflection of mental health, Josiah replies “I’m passionate about mental health from my own lived experience. I do what I do now because of the privilege of family and community, shared pain, hope, and love”
When asked what his favourite thing about Ōtautahi is? Josiah replies,
“We’ve seen something happen here. We’ve seen what the benefit is when iwi, hapu, and whenua are supported and the influence that this has had on Christchurch. I acknowledge it’s not perfect, but it’s a start. I love Christchurch. Since the quakes, there have been more opportunities to be bicultural and we’ve seen that when you include Māori and Pasifika in decision making etc. that this is beneficial for everyone – businesses, organisations, communities, individuals, and Christchurch as a whole”