Anzac Day exciting for first air force wahine with moko kauae

By Te Ao - Māori News

Chanelle-Erica Kuka-OBrien is the first wahine in the Royal New Zealand Air Force to gain her moko kauae and will be celebrating her first Anzac Day in uniform with her moko.

Kuka O'Brien says the upcoming Anzac Day is special for her, being her first since joining the Defence Force in September last year.

"Tino hīkaka au, tino harikoa au kia tū ki tētahi rā maumahra mo ngā ANZACs mō ngā hoia i tū ana i mua i mātou i ngā rā o mua."

(I am really excited to take part in the day of remembrance for the ANZACs, for the soldiers who came before us).

First to gain moko kauae

The 21-year-old Kuka-O'Brien, of Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāi Te Rangi, is an aircraftsman in the air force and received her moko kauae last December alongside her mum. 

After writing a formal letter to her base commander to seek permission to get her moko, the letter was sent to the Chief of Air Force who approved it straight away and has since reviewed the process so it is easier for others in the air force to gain their moko.

Kuka-O'Brien says her moko kauae represents the unbreakable connection between her and her whānau.

"Ko te tikanga o tōku kauae, ko te hononga ki tōku māma, ki tōku whānau, me tōku awa o Wanganui. Ko tētahi whakataukī, ' Ko au ko koe, ko koe ko au'. Ko tērā whakataukī, he tino hirahira mō māua ko tōku māma."

(The meaning of my moko kauae is the connection to my mum, to my whānau and to my ancestral river Wanganui. As the saying goes, 'I am you and you are me'. That is a really important whakataukī to my mum and I).

Since joining the air force and gaining her moko kauae, Kuka O'Brien says she has developed a sense of empowerment.

"For me, I've definitely changed as a person. I used to be very shy. I'm still a little bit shy now. But it's definitely opened up my eyes to what's out there in the real world. Definitely a lot more rules but it's good being surrounded by people who support you throughout your job."

First in her whānau

Kuka-O'Brien says she is the first in her whānau to join the air force and hopes it inspires more to come through.

"Now that I m here though, it's definitely opened up their eyes a little bit, especially my younger siblings. It gives them something to look forward to. My little brother's over the moon, he thinks every time an aircraft goes by, I fly them."

She says she wanted to join the New Zealand Defence Force because of the multiple opportunities available.

"Not only as a career but also culturally. They have kapa haka in here as well, sports - I'm definitely into my basketball, rugby, touch rugby - and also just making life-long friends, and working around like-minded people."

Kuka-O'Brien is currently completing her aviation engineering course, and will work her way to becoming a ground support equipment technician where she will be fixing specialist vehicles and setting up camps on deployments.

She will feature in an ANZAC special called Sisters in Arms this Sunday on Māori Television.