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By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist, and Jan Kohout, RNZ journalist

Twenty four Pacific peoples have been recognised in the 2023 New Year’s honours.

A former Premier of Niue, Young Vivian, leads the list of distinguished Pacific peoples in the list.

Vivian has been made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Niue.

Fiji-born Dr Api Talemaitoga, a familiar face to Pacific communities during the height of covid-19 in Aotearoa, has been acknowledged for his decades of service in the medical sector.

The first Pacific priest ordained in Rome in 1990, Father Paulo Filoialii of Samoa, has been recognised for services to the Pacific community.

Also on the honours list is Lisa Taouma, the producer and director of Coconet TV, the largest pool of Pacific content on screen in New Zealand.

And the lead singer of the popular band Ardijah, Betty-Anne Monga, has been recognised for services to music.

‘Better things will come’: Niue’s Young Vivian
Young Vivian started his career as a teacher in New Zealand.

He went to a British school based on an English system. He failed English and was told to leave because enrolments were backed up.

Betty-Anne Monga from Ardijah
Betty-Anne Monga . . . lead singer of the popular band Ardijah. Image: Dan Cook/RNZ Pacific

He said he “begged the education officer” to stay so he was sent to Northland College and was “very happy” there.

Community members say he has been instrumental in fostering a love for Vagahau Niue, or Niue language, as a respected elder.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific reporter Lydia Lewis in 2022, at the launch of the Niue language app in Auckland, Vivian said:

“A language is a key to your culture and your tradition. It gives you that spiritual strength of who you are and you are able to face the world,” he said.

“That’s very, very important to a small nation like Niue who has a population of only 2500 people, but here in Australia and New Zealand it’s 80,000.”

Former Niue premier Young Vivian
Former Niue premier Young Vivian says he is “proud” of the next generation of Vagahau Niue speakers at the Niue language app launch. Image: Lydia Lewis/RNZ Pacific

When he went home to Niue, he was “dissatisfied”.

“I want to be fully independent, but I could see signs that people were not acceptable to that so I gave up, only then we can be real Niueans,” Vivian said.

His message to Pacific leaders is to believe in themselves.

“They must depend on themselves and God, they have everything in their homes, they need guts, stickability and determination, small as they are, they can stand up to it.”

He encourages the next generation to go back to basics.

“You have to depend on literally what you’ve got,” he said.

Dr Api Talemaitoga
Dr Api Talemaitoga . . . “I have this knowledge about health and I find it a real pleasure to do it.” Image: Greg Bowker Visuals/RNZ Pacific

‘Profound privilege’: Dr Api
Dr Api Talemaitoga has been acknowledged for his decades-long work in the medical sector.

“I see it as a profound privilege, I have this knowledge about health and I find it a real pleasure to do it.”

More than three decades in the job after graduating in 1986, he has a deep sense of pride for the next generation.

“I was really fortunate to be given the opportunity to give the graduation address at the University of Otago for medical students,” he said.

“To see the highest number of Pasifika medical students walk across the stage was really emotional.

“I can happily retire now that I see this new generation of young people, enthusiastic, bright, diverse and they are the ones that will carry on the load in the future.”

Dr Talemaitoga always has a smile on his face and an infectious laugh, he is incredibly hard to get hold of because he is always helping his patients.

A young Dr Api sitting on the arm of sofa to the left of his paternal grandmother Timaleti Tausere in Suva. His parents Wapole and Makelesi Talematoga are on the left, his sister Laitipa Navara is sitting on his dad's lap and his brother Josateki Talemaitoga is in the middle next to his mum. At the back is his Dad's youngest brother Kaminieli and sitting on the ground at the front is cousin Timaleti.
A young Dr Api sitting on the arm of sofa to the left of his paternal grandmother Timaleti Tausere in Suva. His parents, Wapole and Makelesi Talematoga, are on the left, his sister Laitipa Navara is sitting on his Dad’s lap and his brother Josateki Talemaitoga is in the middle next to his mum. At the back is his Dad’s youngest brother Kaminieli and sitting on the ground at the front is cousin Timaleti. Image: Dr Api Talemaitoga/RNZ Pacific

When asked how he keeps his charisma day in day out, he said:

“I am not superhuman, some days are just dreadful and you come home feeling really disillusioned and what’s the point of all of this when you see three or four people in a row heading for dialysis,” he said.

“Then you have days where you make a difference to one person out of the 25 or 30 you see that day.

“They feel really encouraged that you’ve been able for the first time to explain their condition to them … you can’t put it in words, it’s such an amazing feeling.”

Father Paulo Sagato Filoialii and Pope John Paul II.
Father Paulo Sagato Filoialii and Pope John Paul II. Image: Father Paulo Sagato Filoialii/RNZ Pacific

‘This is for you, not me’: Father Paulo
The first Pacific Priest ordained in Rome in 1990 – Father Paulo Sagato Filoialii is dedicating his medal to the community he has served for decades, that has in turn backed him.

“I want to offer this medal for the Pacific Island people, this is for you, not for me. This medal I will receive is for all of you and I thank you all for your prayers, for your love and your support, God bless you all,” he said.

Father Paulo has contributed his time to the Catholic community in Christchurch and Ashburton.

Upon Father Filoialii being ordained, the Samoan Mass was performed for the first time in the Vatican, resulting in Pope John Paul II decreeing that the Samoan Mass can now be performed anywhere in the world.

‘Proud’: The Coconet TV’s Lisa Taouma
Pioneering Pasifika producer and director Lisa Taouma paved the way for Pacific peoples in media.

She created the ground-breaking site The Coconet TV which is the largest pool of Pacific content on screen in Aotearoa.

On top of that she made the Polyfest series, the long-standing Pacific youth series Fresh, five award-winning documentaries, the feature film Teine Sa and two short films.

Taouma believes you are only as good as the people you bring through.

“I’m proud of having brought Pacific stories to the fore around the world, I am proud of having brought Pacific people with me into that space, that is what I am most proud of,” She said.

Taouma said it was awesome that more indigenous people were being recognised globally.

While she is humbled to receive the honour, she admits not accepting it crossed her mind.

“I felt quite conflicted at the start, you know there are problems with the idea of empire and how Pacific people have been treated under the history of the British Empire,” she said.

“At the same time, it is really important to stand in this space as a Pacific woman and to have more Pacific people recognised by the Crown if you like.

“This is a system that is hopefully more reflective of Aotearoa and where we stand now.”

‘I never looked back’: Sully Paea
Niuean youth-worker Sully Paea has dedicated his life to working with youth, founding the East Tamaki Youth and Resource Centre between the late 1970s and 1986.

Paea said he was lost. He battled alcoholism and pushed through a diagnosis of depression. He had a violent criminal career until he met his wife which changed him completely.

He has dedicated his life to working with youth, founding the East Tamaki Youth and Resource Centre between the late 1970s and 1986.

After 40 years serving the community, he has never looked back

Nina has been nominated for her great services to Pacific Development with an Honorary Queen's service medal. She is posing with her grandchildren.
Tafilau Nina Kirifi-Alai . . . “Seeing Pasifika communities graduating from university has been rewarding.” Image: Tafilau Nina Kirifi-Alai/RNZ Pacific

‘We’re getting there as people’: Tafilau Nina Kirifi-Alai
Tafilau Nina Kirifi-Alai has been honoured for her great services to Pacific Development.

Kirifi-Alai has been the Pacific manager of Otago University for more than 20 years.

She has assisted scholarships of Pacific students and has led developments for the University of Otago to support Pacific tertiary institutions in the region.

“Seeing Pasifika communities graduating from university has been rewarding,” she said.

“To see all those colours in the garments and all those families and all that, was like oh yeah we are getting there, we’re getting there as a people. This is why we left our homes to seek greater opportunities, education wise and work wise, and I actually believe that education is the key.”

‘Knowing your culture, knowing your roots’: Rosanna Raymond
Activism is what paved the road for multidisciplinary artist and curator Rosanna Raymond.

Her work has taken her to China, Australia and Britain, where she has built an awareness of Pacific art and fashion.

She draws on her strong cultural bond to artefacts that were taken from their original land and are now displayed in museums throughout the world.

She made a huge written contribution by co-publishing Pasifika Styles: Artists inside the Museum in 2008 and was Honorary Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology and Institute of Archaeology at University College, London.

She said moving forward whilst staying true to several of her roots was what led her to where she was today.

The full list of Pasifika in the New Year’s Honours list are:

To be Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit:
The honourable Mititaiagimene Young Vivian, former Premier of Niue – For services to Niue.

To be Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit:
Nathan Edward Fa’avae – For services to adventure racing, outdoor education and the Pacific community

David Rodney Fane – For services to the performing arts

Dr Apisalome Sikaidoka Talemaitoga – For services to health and the Pacific community

Lisa-Jane Taouma – For services to Pacific arts and the screen industry

To be Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit:
Father Paulo Sagato Filoialii – For services to the Pacific community

Sefita ‘Alofi Hao’uli – For services to Tongan and Pacific communities

Lakiloko Tepae Keakea – For services to Tuvaluan art

Marilyn Rhonda Kohlhase – For services to Pacific arts and education

Felorini Ruta McKenzie – For services to Pacific education

Betty-Anne Maryrose Monga – For services to music

Sullivan Luao Paea – For services to youth

Rosanna Marie Raymond – For services to Pacific art

The Queen’s Service Medal:
Kinaua Bauriri Ewels – For services to the Kiribati community

Galumalemana Fetaiaimauso Marion Galumalemana – For services to the Pacific community

Hana Melania Halalele – For services to Pacific health

Teurukura Tia Kekena – For services to the Cook Islands and Pacific communities

Nanai Pati Muaau – For services to Pacific health

Lomia Kaipati Semaia Naniseni – For services to the Tokelau community

Ma’a Brian Sagala – For services to Pacific communities

Mamaitaloa Sagapolutele – For services to education and the Pacific community

Honorary:
Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai – For services to education and the Pacific community

Tuifa’asisina Kasileta Maria Lafaele – For services to Pacific health

Nemai Divuluki Vucago – For services to Fijian and Pacific communities

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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