Retiring Māori speaking mayor says te reo available to all

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

After 24 years in local government, Gisborne mayor Meng Foon has announced this will be his final term.  Foon leaves as the only fluent reo Māori-speaking mayor in New Zealand.

The Māori speaking mayor says the language is available to all who desire it.

“Some have made attempts to learn...when there is a yearning it's easy for an individual to learn but if they don't want to it is difficult and a waste of time,” says Foon.

A regular guest on local Māori radio stations Radio Ngāti Porou and Tūranga FM, Foon is also a familiar face on many marae where he participates in traditional Māori oratory.

“There were many knowledgeable elders who guided me in my path to learn te reo Māori and at the time I didn't realise how lucky I was to have this prized possession within me,” says Foon.

Foon was first appointed Mayor of Gisborne in 2001.  He says his understanding of te reo Māori has enabled him to better understand and present Māori issues.

“The English language is different to me, [through Māori] I understand about the many tribes of the East Coast and I can try harder to develop their initiatives at the council table,” says Foon.  

The mayor composed a song completely in te reo Māori entitled Tū Mai to honour his relationship with the late Ngāti Porou leader Dr Apirana Mahuika, who was a mentor of his over the years.

Foon says, “It's about the traditional narratives of this area, of Nukutaimemeha, of Mount Hikurangi and maintaining the land.  That was the main idea of our elder Uncle Api, who said it's not just for us but for the generations to come.”

Foon will maintain his position until Gisborne District Council elections in October.