Honestly, not going to lie I didn’t put a hell of a lot of thought into it. No one else in my immediate family had gone to university before, but I always wanted to go. Not going wasn’t really an option for me. I love learning and in Dunedin I knew I would’ve drunk my life away as I was a sheep at 18. Also, Auckland and Wellington were just too far away. Growing up Dad was the only one who worked and there was six of us and so we weren’t in the financial position to do a lot. So, because of that, my family’s kind of state, and the nature of the relationship in my family where I am partly a person to lean on - now thinking about it Christchurch was just the best option.
Another thing that drew me here was the scholarships and monetary support and that was a really good selling point. I also heard Jarred Gilbert talk about the criminal justice degree, and it was the first time that I had heard someone spit the facts. It was the first time that I had heard someone talk to me about statistics that affect me. I was like ‘I love this! I don’t know why! I need to know more!’
I don’t know why, but it was almost like all the stars aligned and I was like, ‘Ok I am just going to go to Christchurch.’
When we asked how Tori became involved in UCSA (University of Canterbury Students Association) she replied,
That was a crazy one! Because that’s not why anyone comes to university. The biggest reward for being at university is the growth stage in life. It’s not just getting a degree. You make so many friends, learn how to handle yourself in situations, learn how to wash your clothes, make routines for yourself, go to the gym and so forth. It’s like a safe space to screw up life but try figure it out at the same time. Like that’s what I was coming here for.
I’d been Head Girl at Mountainview and Sam Bros (former UCSA President) was head boy when I was year 10. I had looked at him and thought I could do that. Seeing Sam not being afraid of doing that and how Sam was freely himself was cool. So, I ran for it (head girl). There was actually a group of girls, only two though, who tried to start a petition for me not to be Head Girl. However, that got stamped out really quickly. So, I ran and got it. I remember instead of making a long speech I made a video. I don’t really know what it was about in the end. I think it was me falling off skateboards and stuff and said the classic ‘I want to give back to school because it had given me so much.' But like, it genuinely had.
I was top scholar that year and that was when things in the wider world seemed really possible for me. Sam would also like once every two months be like ‘Hey man, thought about University? Would love for you to come to UC.’
So, I ended up making the shift up here.
Riley Bros (Sam’s Brother), was involved in Entré. That was when it was on its big rising with the $85k challenge. I was like, ‘woah that’s crazy - $85k challenge.’ I was like ‘oh yeah that would be cool. Ok I could go for something.’ I went for events assistant and I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. I had my interview. They were like, ‘Oh you were amazing. Your interview was great, but we think you’ve applied for the wrong position.’ So, they gave me HR Manager. I loved it because I was like ‘admin get stuff done’ and then I also had such a creative license to do other things. I loved doing the admin where we were interacting with major sponsors. At the end of the year, they opened positions again and I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll run for the COO role.’
Then there was the natural progress of the club scene back then. Not so much now. However, a few years ago UCSA would take presidents and vice presidents from the bigger clubs and that’s how it used to go. That’s also how it stays popular amongst students.
Sam Bros had originally asked someone else to run with him and I got asked by two other people. I had helped Sam and Riley with their first campaign the year before. I wrote them a song. I actually ended up saying no to the two other people. I was like this is amazing, but I felt like I had no input into their ideas for the campaign it and didn’t feel like it was right. Then the other person said no to Sam and yes to the other two. Sam then had this brainwave and was like, “This has actually happened for a reason Tori. We actually have to run together.” I was like, ‘I’m not sure.’ Particularly because of the fact that I had always looked up to Sam.
We then found Millie and at the end of 2018 were like SWEET.
So much happened in your first year being on the UCSA and also President in 2020,
Yeah, and none of us predicted that. But I look at who I was literally blessed with and what that meant for how we could do this, and I don’t think there are many other groups of people who could have made that whole situation better.
There were so many things that happened. Not only in Christchurch but also in the world, right? When we got into UCSA, I was like ok this is crazy, like literally crazy. I was genuinely not expecting it.
Basically, as soon as the mosque attacks happened. It was also then like ‘What have I signed myself up to?’
I remember Sam and I sat in the operations centre that weekend and planned the vigil. There were some amazingly special stories that were shared that I will never forget. I remember the President of Canterbury Global Society, he stood up in a club meeting and burst into tears saying, ‘This happens all the time to us. There’s this narrative of this is not us and we are them.
But like two weeks ago my brother got harassed walking down the street because he was black.’
He was like, ‘If we can do one thing as a group in this community that is the University of Canterbury, can we please not paint the narrative that we condemn everything that is going on when our actions don’t show that. Let's be better.’
It was like the most core shaking thing I have ever experienced, and I’ve experienced racism myself, but to watch someone on that level be angry to the point that in the middle of crises say ‘this is not ok’ was actually really special.
Then one of the Presidents of the gentlemen’s club at the time stood up and said, ‘I am a white male and I have no idea what my role is in this, but I am willing to stop. I am willing to take direction on how we help.’
It was a crazy moving time. We did a lot of crying. I experienced the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced over that time. We’d literally be with so many people who had directly been affected. I could never stop thinking, ‘we don’t deserve to be reading these letters or receiving them, but I also feel like I need these letters of kindness to keep going. It was really special.’
I look back on the time not grateful for the time, but grateful for the people I had around me to be able to triage so much change. It doesn’t look like much on the face of things, but we’ve had faith policies written and inter faith bases start to give these people the rights they’ve never had on campus before. Those are all things that exist in the background but are now part of the fabric of the University.
I remember the first 6 months after that, I was overly conscious of anyone who didn’t look like me because I had probably unconsciously contributed to so much of their uncomfort in their space and I consider myself a nice person.
It was crazy.
It was moving.
I am so grateful to have moved through things like that. Even like the law review saga. To watch people, grow and admit to making mistakes. I am like, actually those are the people I want to be around.
Then after that whole year, Sam goes, ‘You should run for president.'
In that moment one year on the UCSA was enough for me. I then went to Aspiring Leaders Forum and met so many cool people and I remember sitting in one of the talks and thinking, I actually have a responsibility to give. It’s more than whether I feel like this is something I should do or could get -It’s suddenly I have a responsibility knowing all the things I know and having felt and experienced all the things I have felt and experienced to make sure that this community is in good hands. I questioned ‘Am I the right person for this’ but I just had this realisation that I should run for it - that I had to run for it.
There were so many people I talked to who wanted to run and so many things I wanted to do, and you almost wanted to have people all on the same page. So many people I talked to weren’t sure also if they wanted to run. So, we ran together (Common Ground) and gave it a go. It was literally polarizing. Half of the engaged students with UCSA were like ‘No’ and half were like ‘Yes.’ I was like ok I don’t know how to control the narrative that has now become out of control.
The responsibility of all those people feeling at least satisfied with that election fell on me and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’
Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t do it? I got onto the UCSA as president anyways and I felt like if we had just run in the top three it would have been a very uninteresting and unengaging election period that probably wouldn’t have resulted in anything. The polarization a good tool to seriously reflect on that.
I broke down in tear numerous times when people said mean things about us online. Navigating hate was... interesting. No one deserves to be treated like that. The other President Candidate running experiencing a lot of hate too actually and though about pulling out. I was like, ’You must.’ So, I went to his house and dropped some material off so He could make some signs as I didn’t want him to think that they have to do this half assed. It was a moving experience looking after competition like that. I wanted it to be fair. I wanted it to be an equitable election.
So that happened. Covid-19 happened and everything we wanted to do went out the window.
Tori laughs and follows with,
It was crazy.
I look back on it and I am like holy crap, particularly in 2020, I could not have done anything without Katie (Vice President) and Jack (Finance Officer). The way that things flowed smoothly – it was better than a well-oiled machine. We knew at what point it was too much for someone. We knew to allow time then to slow down and allow people to be like, “I have this issue”, and “this is super frustrating”. It was about knowing and respecting what each other was going through. I appreciate those two more than words could ever express. I have deep faith that in 10 years' time we will be doing something great together again. We’re so different in nature, so similar in values and it just works.
But when you add them all up and put them all on paper it's like woah. Mosque Attacks, police investigations, school’s climate strikes, Black Lives Matter movement, Covid-19, lockdown, online lectures... and so much more. There is so many times that I felt like giving up. I made a mental note to take a photo every time I’m crying so that I could normalize that fact that I have be sad to be happy and make progress.
There is so much stuff that looking back, I am now super confident about having real conversations, being very poised about things and understanding my mind may need to change about things and that is ok. I also learnt to understand it may never change if I didn’t put my thoughts out on the table to represent thousands of other students' voices.
Trying to bring in executive that already have heightened emotions and opinions around certain things was also crazy and I had to work on being patient and understanding the complexities around, how you form a consensus.
What is the biggest thing that you’ve learnt over the last few years?
I don’t really know how you say it properly but the biggest thing I’ve learnt is,
Not to mistake agreement for bringing productive. In the sense that simply compromising your value on something to get to an agreement on something isn’t how you move forward.
The change and the difference you can make in society sits in the disagreement and the difference. So, you actually have to experience those things to be in anyway progressive, inclusive or to be truly diverse. I mean that in the sense that it affected everything I did. For example, like knowing that the university disagrees with students on an issue, but we can be productive about that. How do we have those conversations and open our minds about changing these things but not just coming to a conclusion because a conclusion is seen to be the end thing that you should come to, taking the time to have the conversation fully to get the right outcome I think that’s how you actually embrace diversity as well.
Why stick around in Christchurch now that you’re finished with university?
I like this space. Because of where we are at in life there is so much space to grow here that it feels like the only place in Aotearoa New Zealand where you can actively undo things of the past to create a reflection of the good things and move forward to make changes. I think we’ve really read into the fact that we’ve had to restore an entire physical infrastructure and rebuild but that has also required us emotionally, mentally, and socially to unbuild things and rebuild them back up. That’s one of the best things about this place.
The second reason is the job that I am going into this year. Their exact mission around funding and for a lack of better words ‘commercialising cool ideas’ put simply is them making sure some good ideas get put out into the world. That’s a social mission that gives so much to somewhere like Christchurch but can also give so much to me.
My boyfriend is actually moving away from Christchurch, but, ‘I am not done here.’
I just feel so deep in my heart that I am in a relationship with Christchurch. That how great is it that we as young people get to be one of the biggest parts of this city and that there are so many people wanting to support us in that. I am just not ready to let that go. I am going to squeeze every inch of what that gives to me out of Christchurch knowing that I CAN give something back to Christchurch in return.
We first met Selwyn through PYLAT (Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation) and have the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss why he loves Christchurch and what has shaped him to be the person he is today.
I was at St Bedes and leading the polyfest. I found out about Pacific Youth Parliament and I signed up. I was chosen to be the leader of the opposition. There were debates and discussions and at the end of the event I was in tears. I'd never been in a space where there were just pacific people, especially in Christchurch. Not only that but it was a platform for my voice. Pacific youth parliament showed me that my voice was valuable and valuable in the government system. It was something that I went on on a whim, but it became such an opportunity and made me realise that youth participation, especially pacific participation is undermined and sometimes even tokenistic.
I'd love to see pacific voice front and center.
I’d love to see Pacific people in the city center. Getting our pacific youth into the cannon of Christchurch. Even at UC, all the pacific clubs aren’t right and centre. The only way you’ll find pacific people is down the road at the fale. I also work at Rollicking Gelato which is an amazing workplace and working in the city centre I don’t see many pasifika people.
What do I love about Christchurch?
For me actually how small it is in the scheme of what cities are normally like. Here in Christchurch there's a real community-based geography, you have beaches, mountains vineyards. I grew up and lived in North Canterbury and this was actually a massive part of my identity crises when I was young. I would go to Tongan events in Hornby, and everyone would be speaking in Tongan then I’d go back out to the country and my melatonin was different to everyone else and I was like where do I fit?
Pacific Youth Parliament made me feel so special. I realised that pacific people and all people are beautiful and being different it what empowers people. But I also realised that Youth Participation is undermined, especially sometimes tokenistic.
When thinking about the future and what he hopes for Christchurch, Selwyn replies,
I want to see events like Polyfest back in the city centre, instead of in the red zone. Year by year the venues have degraded. Putting Polyfest in the RedZone feels like we’re almost being put to the side.
I want to see more Pasifika art and culture in the city centre and represented in Christchurch. I want pasifika artists to have space. Space to create and space to be represented creatively.
Creativity is such an important thing and comes in all shapes and forms and is not just your stereotype. For example, rugby players are creative, and my advice is Don’t limit yourself. Photography has taught me so much. How to run events and what's required to get the best and question how we can do events in a pacific way not just in a western way. Cultural Competency and how we approach these events is such an important thing and it makes you really ask what does pacific mean?
What is also problematic is the lack of attention on arts and drama in all boys schools. I want to see everyone all on the same level.
I’d love to see pasifik people in the city centre. I’d love to see more pasifika art.
When asked about the Student Vigil Oki and others organised after the events that occurred on March 15th last year, he pauses for a moment and then begins to tell me why and how the student vigil came to be.
“It was Friday night only a few hours after everything had happened. I was just sitting there thinking that something needed to be done. So I created a group chat with only a few of us and decided we should do a bake drive or something. By Saturday afternoon we were delivering baking to people, the ambulances, staff etc. and we actually had the opportunity to go to the hospital and drop some baking off.”
Oki in his humbleness failed to mention, that 140 young people baked and delivered baking on the Saturday following the attacks.
“Then on Sunday morning I was sitting there thinking that there needed to be something to bring young people more together during this time. So I threw the idea out to a friend. There was obviously the organised memorial, but I wanted something different. A different way to bring people together, something for just the young people of Christchurch.”
He pauses in thought and reflection,
“I literally didn’t think that there would be that many people who would come.”
‘We decided to have a circle in order to bring everyone together and to stand united. We had candles as well. What happened really affected a lot of our young people in this city and there needed to be something to bring them together, pay respect, and to show that we were united and that we actually cared”
A year on Oki organised an event called ‘Colour your day’ which happened a few weeks ago on Friday 13thMarch in the lead up to March 15th. This even was to raise money for St John and to once again bring people together.
“In January I was sitting there and realised that we were coming up a year since that event that occurred. We’d talked a lot at the vigil about the importance of being united and standing up and overcoming hatred with love. But I didn’t want it to be a one off thing. I thought ‘Now how do I sustain this?’ And an easy way to do this is was to bring people together again”
“There’s a national service on the 15th but it’s pretty adult led and not really a space for young people. So I thought, why not hold a youth service? Get people together and pay respect. This time around though I’ve been doing a fair bit of work behind the scenes. That’s where colour your day comes in, asking everyone to wear colour. I also want to empower other youth and students, so I contacted Burnside and Cashmere head students to see if they wanted to take a lead.”
“An event always needs something of an X-factor: so we’re doing the circle thing again, like the last event. We’ll also be doing a moment of silence and we’re going to organise the circle of young people into a Koru so from above you see a group of young people standing together. The Koru will I guess represent the unity of our young people in New Zealand – whilst we pay respect and reflect”
When asked if there was anything any core moments that have ignited this passion for young people and change Oki pauses.
“I’ve always felt like I didn’t belong. Growing up in school, especially in a high school of 2000 students I always felt like I was the minority. Like I had to find my way through the education system. That’s why it’s so important for me to stand up and share a voice and I found myself getting involved in a few things around Christchurch and at one event Josiah Tualamal’I saw me and suggested I attend Pacific Youth Parliament”
He pauses again, “That event gave me a whole new perspective on myself and life. I saw the world differently after that. I saw the importance in my voice”
“All I needed was for someone like Josiah, who had been on a similar journey to me, to tell me my voice was important. That what I have to give and who I am is valuable and needed”
“For me my life has been great. I am extremely fortunate to be bought up in a beautiful country, New Zealand and in Christchurch. It was always my parents dream to come to New Zealand, and they called it the land of milk and honey”
“You know growing up my family didn’t have everything, but despite this we always had a sense of community. Even when we were struggling my parents would always give something. Would always look outwardly. These are the moments that ground me, that remind me and have I guess shaped why I do and what I do today. You know the moments in life where you’re busy and uni seems to much and things seem overwhelming and I doubt myself and I feel like I can’t do this or shouldn’t be doing this - I look to those moments of when my parents would always give and the community we had and it keeps me going”
And I guess to sum it up there’s that quote,
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?’ and that motivates me and I always come back to.
And you know 50-100 years ago my ancestors struggled, and I guess things are slightly better but our people still struggle, and in the future I wonder if when I have kids will they still struggle? And I hope not, and that motivates me too.
And when asked, “What do you love about Christchurch?”
Oki replies, “I think I kind of want to say the young people” and then laughs slightly.
“You know, it’s just cool and empowering to see real young and passionate people of all ages 12 year olds, 18 year olds, standing up for what their passionate about in this city and just doing stuff and changing things and making a difference.”
So, my family originally come from up north and are from Ruatoria as we whakaapaback to Ngati Porou. My nana brought my Mum and my Aunty down when they were quite young, so they grew up here as well. I think I have always enjoyed Christchurch; I went to school and high school here. After the earthquakes we actually moved to Auckland. I hated it. Just because it’s so big and we only ended up being there for three months. My Mum is an architectural designer so after the earthquakes it actually It made sense that we came back. We came back and I just haven't left, I don’t really have a desire to leave either. I like Wellington, but I just feel Christchurch has a lot to offer in terms of connections and the people that I know. I think they inspire a lot of what I do. Sounds so cliché, but like the people that you keep as company inspire you.
I think the main things right now that I enjoy about Christchurch is Church. The community at Majestic is super nice and I have never stepped foot into somewhere that is so creative and will find something in you even when you think you’re not so creative. They’re like “Do you know you can do this? We’re going to find something for you to do.” And then they do and you’re like woah I didn’t know I could actually do this. It’s really nice to have that supportive community and not only community but also supportive friends.
I think people say that there's nothing to do in Christchurch, but I think those people just have small minds. Like there’s always things to go do, even like little things. It’s fun to do the small out of the ordinary things. So, like for example time zone, go to coffee and find the new quirky cafes around, go to the hills and watch a movie in the car. The little things that you don’t think of, but they don’t even have to cost a lot of money. You can make your own fun. I think people only think there's nothing here because they’re used to it and that’s like anything. You know you’ve got to just keep finding the new and you’ll realise what you’ve got. I really enjoy Christchurch.
I started youth leading at YAT (Youth Alive Trust) in 2011 and finished there in 2015 because it was just through high school and when I went to uni I just had no time. YAT was really fun, inspiring and cool. Ultimately that has led up to where I am now. After that I stopped youth leading and I returned when I was at Majestic. Last year through COVID like most people did take a toll and I felt like it was a lot to take on when it felt like I wasn't coping myself. So, I stepped back for a couple of weeks because I wanted to be there 100% for youth.
If I can't be there 100% for myself, then I can’t be there 100% for the young people.
This year I’ve stepped back as I wanted to pursue full time employment and focus on that. I just felt like I wouldn’t have enough time which is really sad. But then I ended up getting a position working with youth and that’s crazy it feels like everything has just fallen into place. I think YAT was where I found my passion for working with youth.
During Uni I was working two jobs but I still felt like I wasn’t earning enough money so started a side hustle. That came about as I started op shopping my own stuff and people really liked my clothes and would ask, “Oh are you selling anything?” and I would reply, “No, why would I sell my stuff? I usually just donate them!” From that thought I decided to do market. I remember I originally called it ‘Raid Ruby's Robe.’ I sold a bit and then I started selling on my personal page. Then it just flourished. I was like ok people are liking what I am doing, I should take this further. When COVID came around and I got made redundant from one of my jobs, I started doing it full time. That was actually my main source of income last year.
When we asked Ruby how her new name came about, her eyes lit up with excitement as she explained,
So, I never wanted to have a business name. I just wanted it to be me selling clothes and people who knew me buying it. However, one day I was thinking how I would like a name that had something to do with second hand and to do with shopping sustainably. I thought it would be cool to incorporate my love for shopping and my love for te reo Māori both together and that’s kind of how it came about. I went into Māori dictionary and I was like what's the word for second hand and it turns out ‘Oru Oru’ is the word for second hand or hand me down. It kind of means when you pass something through generations, and I was like that sounds quite cool. It reflects the two things I am totally passionate about, second hand shopping and te reo māori.
t's cool because people ask me how to pronounce it and I get to pass down te reo Māori as well to them by them just asking how I pronounce my business name. It’s opened loads of gates for me being able to openly talk about being Māori and not growing up with Māori and having to go find it by going to uni. Then I’ve been able to teach people and sell some ‘Te reo Māori phonetic calendars.’
That came about by people not being able to speak te reo Māori and being too shy to ask how and I thought if you can see it phonetically and break it down into how you would say it in NZ English then it might be easier for people. They did really well. The first time I sold 60 and then around 60 again this year. It’s really cool I remember going to the printing shop to print something and the lady there was like “You don’t happen to print these calendars, do you?” And she already had one in the printing shop that her daughter had given to her for Christmas.
Right now I'm in the process of making te reo Māori cards and numbers so people can learn how to do the numbers and phonetics that way. So yeah, it has been huge having the one business and to get the word out about te reo Māori and for it to be a part of me in that way. When I first went to uni, I was more like a c’s get degree type person. It wasn’t meant to be for long. I realised I hated working where I was full time and I wanted to do something with my brain, and I really enjoyed biological sciences at school.
It wasn't until 1 ½ years into Uni that I was like wow you’re paying for this and you should probably start putting in the effort. So, I said you know what you can do this. I started staying up late, pulling all nighters, and showering at Eng block before my exams because I was studying so much. I feel like I’ve always said I wasn’t born to do a science degree, but I love it and if you love something you make it work. I learnt so much. Even during that degree I went to Thailand. I actually applied to go and ended up revoking my application as I didn’t think I was good enough. The guy who was organising it at the time for us ended up messaging me and was like “Why did you remove it? Come have a meeting with me. I really liked your application and let's chat it over” and he ended up recommending me to go.
Honestly everything happens for a reason. Thailand was the changing point in my entire life. On the Thailand trip was where I met Sam Bros. He was the turning point in my life for coming back to church. When we arrived back, he was like “Hey! You should come to church and check out majestic.” I was like “Nah I’m good.” He kept asking and in the end, I said, “You know what I’ll come check it out just so you stop asking me.” I get there, and it was all these flashing lights, no pews in sight, and real nice people. I was really shocked. Nothing against Catholic Church or anything, I just think when you’ve been a part of something for so long like how I was in the Catholic Church, it just becomes the norm, and I wasn’t really enjoying the norm anymore. And just from there everything flourished from coming back to church.
In Thailand I loved the culture so much that I wanted to start learning about my own.
So, then I came back and started learning Te Reo Māori and indigenous knowledge and then through that I have just felt so much more grounded in myself because it’s a part of me I didn’t realise I had lost or did not have. I think it was a part of me I had all along, I just didn’t know about it and so I got to unlock those certain parts of my life. Growing up, because there was such a negative stereotype towards Māori when people asked, “Where are you from?” I’d be like yeah, I’m Māori but I’m Irish too. And people would be like oh Irish that’s so cool. But now I say, “I’m Māori” It’s cool to be able to be confident in who you are and say you know what I am this. I am Māori and to be able to make a positive impact upon people's perspective of Maori. Like going to university, studying biological sciences, doing the UCMe billboards and just being a positive impact upon Māori youth and now getting to do that for a job, that’s really cool.
I went from c’s get degrees to being able to go to the scholarship to Thailand, the UCME campaign, achieving in the top 15% of uni, and being a A+ Person. It was just like woah, I would have never thought that five years ago I would’ve graduated from university. It wasn’t that my family didn’t believe in me, they wholeheartedly did, it was just that I didn’t believe in myself. And now I am like imagine if I didn’t believe in myself. If I actually was like no, see yah! Where would I be now?
My mum has been my biggest support system. She’s always said do what sets your soul on fire and makes you happy. I think I’ve realised, especially coming into this job I’m starting that not all people are as fortunate enough to have the support system that I had.
So it will be cool to pass that knowledge on to others like my mum did to me. To be able to say,
“You can do this, what is stopping you? You're only stopping yourself. There is really nothing that you can’t achieve. If you love something, do it. If you want to try something, do it. The worst you can do is fail and then you just try again."
I think people are afraid of failure but, maybe some people are afraid of success?
I always think of everything you’ve gained like putting it in a basket of knowledge and you carry them with you throughout. Having those things really opened my mind as to what Christchurch can be, what Christchurch is, and what you can do. As I said it’s all about doing what you love and finding joy in the small things, going to the red zone and having a picnic, going to the cool new movie theatres, doing something you wouldn’t normally do- save up some money and go have a fancy dinner on the terrace, go share a platter with friends.
There are many things to do, I just think people forget and get so overwhelmed with being stuck. And it's like you’re not actually stuck you’re just not realising there's different routes to take things.
I just really enjoy Christchurch. I don’t even know what it is about Christchurch but it’s the feel, it’s the community, it’s the people. Everyone is so supportive. Christchurch will always be home to me and it’s just such a peaceful space. Even in Aotearoa we take for granted how peaceful it is here. There’s so much space. I think here in Christchurch people take Christchurch for granted for what it is. It's still growing and even though we are 10 years on from the earthquake's things are still happening. I think if things weren't still happening, we wouldn't be able to progress. I think it’s a matter of waiting and enjoy the wait. We’ll get there and we will rebuild - enjoying the journey that you can do in the meantime.
I soon realised early on that it's not the place that is the problem, it was me. It was the things I was surrounding myself with. It was the people I was choosing to associate with. It was the jobs I was choosing to do. It’s not the place at all that’s the problem. It’s what you’re choosing to do where you are. I think that’s a good way of looking at Christchurch too, people can’t wait to move away but you move away to Aussie and the exact same thing happens, you’re there for a couple of years and the new is no longer amazing. My advice is, find the joy in the little things, Realise it's not the place where you are it’s what you’re doing in it and with it.
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”