First Cook Islands woman elected to NZ parliament
20/12/2013-Tokoroa, the self proclaimed Cook Islands paradise in New Zealand, were last week celebrating with their other New Zealand communities a new milestone for their nation.
It marks the historic win by the first Cook Islands woman, Ms Poto Williams, into New Zealand’s parliament.
Makira ‘Papa Mac’ Maea, the Cook Islands community leader in Tokoroa only found out the day after, when contacted by the writer for a comment.
Once the news sunk in, he said the achievement by Ms Williams as the first Cook Islands woman to be a New Zealand parliamentarian is a major milestone for the Cook Islands people.
“We are very proud to hear about what Poto has done. It is a blessing for our people,” he told the Niue Star.
He only needed to hear that Ms Williams grandfather is from Rarotonga to know her lineage.
It also meant, “I need to talk to her because I and our Cook Islands people should be part of the group that officially takes her to parliament.”
Ms Williams’ victory in the Christchurch East by-election also makes her the first Pacific islander to win a parliamentary seat in the South Island.
And augurs well for the future that a Niuean could soon take the same pathway.
When she was announced the winner on Saturday night, 30 November, it was her cultural roots that brought the emotions.
“I am the first Cook Islands woman to become a member of New Zealand’s parliament and that, hopefully, will make my villages and people back in the Cook Islands proud.”
Ms Williams’ father is from the village of Tukao, in Manihiki while her grandfather hails from the village of Titikaveka in Rarotonga.
She acknowledged that a major part of her victory is due to the coming together of Christchurch’s Pacific communities in support of her.
She reserved special praise for the role of Pacific churches and their reverends.
“The churches are absolutely vital,” she said. “Our community is based around our faith and it is vitally important that we not only connect our Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands communities, but that we connect our faith community together because that is our strength and our heart.”
The Samoan fraternal of 19 church congregations in Christchurch fully supported Ms Williams campaign.
Chairperson, Reverend Elder Fitifiti Luatua is satisfied with Ms Williams victory and its magnitude. But now, the hard part of her journey lies ahead he said.
“Now that she’s in the legislative assembly, she will be able to take our issues, and voice them right there in parliament. No longer do we need to call from the outside,” he told the Niue Star.
“And one of the issues of concern for all of us is education. That is because even though that is where the government is focused, we are still unsure as to how the government is catering to our people. Fact is, from the sounds of things, we are being left behind so our representatives like Poto Williams need to be vigilant to make sure that does not happen to us anymore.”
Ms Williams is looking forward to the challenge. And the opportunity to work together with countryman, Alfred Ngaro, who is with the National government.
The approach she said will not be petty or about scoring points. It will be about finding common areas to work together that will reap benefits for the Pacific community and wider New Zealand.
“Potentially we will be sitting on opposite sides but like him [Alfred], I will have Pacific concerns at heart, and concerns for the wider community,” she said.
For the Cook Islands community of Tokoroa, it is an opportunity to revisit a dream they’ve harboured for a long time.
It’s a “cultural centre” Papa Mac told the Niue Star.
“One that is similar to the Pacific Cultural Centre hosted by the Brigham Young University in Hawaii that attracts thousands of tourists. But for us, more importantly, it’s an avenue for teaching and learning to maintain Pacific cultures for young Pacific islanders in New Zealand.
“We will have coconut trees, surrounding the place. There will be traditional sculpted waka around and many other unique cultural aspects of the Cook Islands. And there will be a constant hive of cultural activities and events. As soon as you drive through Tokoroa and see this place, you will know you’re in the Cook Islands,” he broke out in a serious smile.
72 year old Mama Mi’i Tangaroa’s eyes mist at the dream revisited.
The cultural centre, she agreed with Papa Mac, “will allow us to wrap our children in our culture and language. We prime them to know who they are so they grow up proud in their culture and language.”
It will become a focus to bring a tight knit community even closer, and a source to continue the resurgence in young people seeking to reconnect to their home culture, identity and language.
It is funding that’s holding them back.
But they are confident that the time will come, and when it does, Papa Mac stated with confidence, “Tokoroa will lay claim to be the Cook Islands paradise in the Pacific region”.
It is perhaps one of the reasons the Tokoroa drums at St Luke’s church beat that much more louder last weekend, celebrating Poto Williams’ historic victory and in anticipation of plenty more to come.