Up close and personal with race relations commissioner Meng Foon

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

A documentary showcasing Meng Foon, the reo Māori speaking former Gisborne mayor and current Race Relations Commissioner will premiere tonight on Whakaata Māori.

The film’s director, Julie Zhu hopes that both Māori and tauiwi will watch Meng and take chance to educate themselves, “especially tauiwi who are new to te reo or te ao Māori”.

“We hope that people see being on this whenua means acknowledging te tiriti and the mana motuhake of Māori, and that learning the language is just one step of that journey.”

Meng took up the role of Commissioner after 18 years at the head of the Gisborne District Council. The documentary charts a year of ups and downs in his life.

"Kāore ngā tāngata e mōhio o ēnei tūranga. Ko te mea nui ki au, mai rā anō ko te kanohi kitea. Ka tāea te tangata ki te haere ki wīwī, ki wāwā koirā te mea pai. He whakarongo ki ngā māpu katoa me kī, e kawea ngā kaupapa ki te tēpu. 
(People won't really have an idea what these roles (mayor or commissioner) are. For me it has always been about been amongst the people everywhere. Being engaged with all walks of life who have kaupapa they feel need to be addressed.)


He's the Chinese man with a Māori heart.

Citing the proverb kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka (the kūmara does not speak of its sweetness), Meng doesn't like to talk about himself too much but says he hopes his story can inspire others to take up the challenge of learning te reo Māori.

"Me tarai kaha ki te ako i te reo Māori. He tino taonga, he wāriu mō te whakawhakangatanga kei Aotearoa. Ko ngā manatū kāwanatanga, kei te mōhio rātou inaianei ki te wāriu o ngā whakaaro Māori."
(People should give it their all to learn te reo Māori. It's a treasure, and it is very valuable for race relations in Aotearoa. Government departments are starting to understand its true value in understanding the Māori worldview.)

Zhu says, “Meng is just one example of someone who’s trying to live as tangata tiriti on this whenua, but there are lots of ways for tauiwi to be in relationship to tangata whenua.”

Though learning things here and there throughout her school life, Zhu has also been on the reo Māori journey for over a decade, starting back at Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Whare Wānanga o Aotearoa, in which she calls a privilege to learn te reo rangatira.

“The more I learned, the more it gave me a grounding in my own history and whakapapa, especially someone Chinese. It helps me to connect more with my Chinese side, learn more about the history of this whenua and what our role is as tauiwi to live here, and why we need to support the fight for Māori for tino rangatiratanga.