Highest-ranked wahine in the Navy is of Ngāpuhi descent

updated By Bronson Perich
Commodore Melissa Ross and her whānau at Te Taua Moana Marae / Source - File.

The sacred house of Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu celebrates as one of its daughters was made the highest ranking female officer ever in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Hailing from the Hokianga, newly promoted Commodore Ross spent her youth further south:

“So I grew up in Kawerau under the maunga Pūtauaki, I went to Kawerau College. All of my schooling was done in Kawerau.”

Commodore Melissa Ross was welcomed to Te Taua Moana Marae this morning, where she was promoted from the rank of captain by Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Proctor. Concerning the promotion, he said:

“When we discussed your promotion, not once did we mention that you were a woman, or that you were Māori.

"It was your leadership that brought you here.”

This is a first for Māori, and a first for wāhine. 

“Every day is a proud moment for me to be Māori and to be who I am. I’m surrounded by people who love me and who support me and every day is a good day to be Māori,” Commodore Ross says.

Raniera Kaio, one of the Commodore’s nephews, spoke on behalf of the whānau at the pōwhiri. 

“We are so proud, we are bursting with pride because of her promotion.”

Rear Admiral Proctor, said that this was a special day, and that while the Commodore was a special wahine, that it in no way detracted from the rest of Te Iwi Heremana.

“All of the discussions about selecting her, was about her leadership skills, her competency in that regard.

“Authentic, empathetic she's right up there. As a leader and also about her military experiences and you look at her chest and those medals she’s done a lot.”

The attributes the Commodore holds, which helped her to be selected for the role, were instilled in her by her upbringing and her grandparents.

“It’s more their actions you know? My kuia and koroua were always very strong. They had been through a lot in their lives, so it was just watching them as role models and following in their footsteps.”

Raniera Kaio explained the role that Commodore Ross played in his life.

“She nurtured my younger siblings and myself. When our parents went away, because my father and mother were in the Navy as well.”

Ross has paved the way for the next generation.

“Perhaps this is a sign, that new ground has been broken, that all Māori, and Pākehā can build on,” Kaio concludes.

“Just take every opportunity you can in life because there are lots of opportunities out there and you can do it,” Commodore Ross concludes.

The promotion from captain was required so that Ross could take up her new role, as Deputy Chief of Navy. After receiving her promotion, she then returned to the HMNS Philomel (Devonport Navy Base) for the handover of her new role. This not only makes her the first wahine to ever hold the rank of Commodore, but the first wahine to be made second in command of Te Taua Moana.