Earlier this month, Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Samu joined the Commission as the new Human Rights Advisor – Pasifika. We are really excited to have her on board and have asked her a few questions about her new role and what she wants to achieve at the Commission.
When did you start working at the Commission?
Kia orana (Cook Islands Māori)! Tālofa ni (Tokelau)! Fakaalofa lahi atu (Niue)! Ni sā bula Vinaka (Fiji)! Fakatālofa atu (Tokelau)! Mālō e lelei (Kingdom of Tonga)! Kam na mauri (Kiribati)! Noa’ia (Rotuma)! Mālō lava le soifua (Samoa)! Kia ora koutou katoa! Kia orana kotou katotoa (Rarotonga Māori greeting)!
Ka tīmata taku mahi ko te Kaitohu mo ngā Iwi o te Moana-nui-ā-Kiwa i te Rāhina te rā tuawhā o Māhuru rua mano me te tekau mā whitu. I started my new job as Human Rights Advisor – Pasifika in early September.
Tell us a bit about your background – who you are, what you’re passionate about – all the good stuff:
My name is Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Va’ine Samu.
Tuiloma is the tulafale/ speaking orator matai title that I was granted from my grandfather’s village of Sapunaoa, Falealili, Upolu, Samoa. It is a great honour to be given this leadership recognition as a young Samoan woman born in Aotearoa New Zealand.
With Lina-Jodi, I was named in honour of my father’s mother Lina who died a few months before I was born. Jodi was my cousin who was born the same time as me, but sadly died, so her parents asked if they could attach her name to mine.
Va’ine is Rarotonga Māori for wahine/ woman. I was also named for my Godmother Va’ine Tonga. You can call me Tuiloma/ Tui/ Lina-Jodi/ Lina or even Va’ine. I carry the herstory/ history of these names with pride and answer to all.
My late parents Tuiloma Molipopo and Leatufale Lila Samu were champions of literacy, numeracy and educational advancement. Our tuakana (Māori for eldest sister) Silulu and our parents toiled for years to ensure that we were always well-provided for. As a result, the younger five siblings in our ā’iga (Samoan for family) have tertiary qualifications and eight of ten of our parents’ grandchildren are university graduates and/ or have tertiary qualifications too.
I went to Nga Tapuwae College, now Te Kura Kaupapa o Nga Tapuwae. We were taught Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui dialects by Kepa and the late Pani Stirling. I also learnt the reo rangatira of the mana whenua in Mangere where I was born, still live, raised and educated ko Te Akitai me Te Ahiwaru me Waiōhua o Waikato, Tainui waka.
Samoan is my first language and Te Reo is my second. Learning Te Reo in Aotearoa has helped me to keep my Samoan language, culture and identity strong, because they are linguistically so close and I live away from Samoa. Having these two languages helped in the acquisition of many other Polynesian reo/ gagana/ vagahau/ leo. Over forty years, I have been able to learn several Cook Island Māori dialects, Vagahau Niue (Niue language), Lea Faka Tonga (Tongan language), Gagana Tuvalu and Gana Tokelau.
I have a 26-year-old daughter Jessica or Sesika leka (Jessica the younger) named after her Tongan grandmother. My ā’iga (Samoan for family) and her Dad’s kāinga (Tongan for family) have worked hard together putting our best efforts into raising a good human being. Everything else that I achieve in life is a bonus.
I’ve recently handed in my PhD Health research requirements through Massey University’s School of Public Health. My PhD thesis is called: Digital Navigators: How young Pasifika adults are using Facebook in their family and social lives. It’s a cross-cultural study where I did the Pasifika research and my colleagues did the Māori and Pākehā research. Our research is available at http://www.drinkingcultures.info/
When my degree is conferred, my loved ones are gifting me my life’s dream trip to go to all the Grand Slam tennis majors in a calendar year – Melbourne, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. I usually find other tennis mad fans like myself who also love singing karaoke at these tournaments – and we party like it’s 1999! I’m also into trivia/ quiz night competitions, Monopoly, Scrabble and card games.
How has your background influenced your decision to work at the Commission?
My parents lived a life in service to our ā’iga, Samoan, Mangere, South Auckland, LDS church and Pasifika communities. Both were lifelong members of workers’ unions and instilled in my siblings and I a robust sense of justice in standing up for your own rights and mentor others to get the confidence be assertive.
They came to Aotearoa as twenty-three years old migrants from Samoa in the early 1950s. They didn’t like to speak much about the terrible racism they experienced, but this was the great push behind the legacy of higher education that they put in place for us and our children. They chose, as many Pasifika parents did, to focus on speaking English for our survival and prosperity in New Zealand.
What was it about the role that led you to apply?
This role means so much to Pasifika people across Aotearoa and the Pacific Region. It’s an exciting, innovative new role specifically for Pasifika peoples to advance our rights and to bring to attention the ways that Pasifika peoples are disadvantaged and discriminated against here in Aotearoa.
My appointment has been very well received amongst the Pasifika communities here because it signals to Pasifika that the Commission is serious in its commitment to address human rights challenges and disparities amongst our populations.
What are the opportunities for the Commission going forward, in terms of how it relates to New Zealand’s Pasifika community?
It will be an exciting, ongoing venture to formally build a strong rapport, partnerships and collaborations with key Pasifika groups and people as well as increasing the profile of the Human Rights Commission amongst Pasifika communities.
What are the most pressing issues facing the Pasifika Community in New Zealand?
Income levels and stable work sources are the most pressing issue for Pasifika communities.
Pasifika are amongst NZ’s poorest people and make up a lot of the working poor – people who are struggling daily to make ends meet as families with two parents working at minimum wage.
Effective co-ordination, partnership and collaboration with key government agencies and entities relevant to Pasifika peoples’ priority issues, in particular the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and non-government organisations, is going to be crucial.
What are your first priorities in this role?
Relationship building is pivotal to the success for this position. I am compelled to honour the faith and trust placed in me to deliver my utmost best for Pasifika. I want to utilise my academic writing capability to create highly informative well-researched papers to add invaluable reinforcement to the Pasifika work that will happen at a taro-harakeke-grass roots level. I’m thrilled to get started on a stakeholder mapping exercise to see what Pasifika organisations and groups of people exist around Aotearoa and to develop this into a partnership plan to collaborate on initiatives that are going to have tremendous impact on progressing Pasifika peoples’ rights.
At the end of your first year, what would you hope to have achieved?
I envision that a comprehensive and collaborative Human Rights Commission Pasifika Strategy will be drafted for the new fiscal year and the Commission’s profile amongst Pasifika communities of all ages, ethnicities, education levels, sexual diversities, income and work status would have been significantly increased. I also hope to have made good inroads into building internal capacity within the Commission around engaging with Pasifika peoples about Pasifika communities’ priority issues.
What does it mean to you to be the Commission’s Pasifika Advisor?
I am so very honoured to have been chosen for this role.
The very afternoon I was offered the job, our beloved Aunty Lina Ofu Samu Lavea had just died. My last conversation with her was when she rang me the day before she died, to say that she wanted to hear when I got the call to offer me the job. I told her “Oh Aunty I’m not sure if I’ll get it. The calibre of people is no doubt very high”. She replied “E - amuia lava ‘oe si o’u tei! Ou te mautinoa e te maua lau tofiga, e te maua lenei galuega fou”! She said in Samoan: “You are blessed my niece! I am confident you will secure this new calling, this new job”! For Pasifika people, the blessing from elders is one of the most sacred gifts you can be given. I treasure this blessing from my Aunt, who has been a parent to us especially since ours have passed away to go forward with gusto as the Commission’s Pasifika Advisor.
There is a lot of expectation of me. I don’t feel burdened, I don’t feel overwhelmed nor pressured. I feel energised, enthusiastic, invigorated and humbled to have so much faith and trust to deliver placed in me. This propels me forward with a lot of positive energy.