After 18 years as mayor of Gisborne and as the only Māori-speaking mayor in Aotearoa, Meng Foon is stepping away from local government. A formal farewell for Foon was held at Te Poho o Hine i Tuhia wharekai in Gisborne.
“My family would like to thank the wider East Coast for all of the support for us,” says Foon.
A familiar face on many East Coast marae, he also composed his own songs in Māori.
Ngāti Porou elder John Manuel says, “The acknowledgments to him are justified, that's what I say. There's nothing beyond that, he still retains the language, it won't be lost and he will maintain it.”
Foon grew up in Makaraka, where he picked up te reo Māori on his family's gardens and in their grocery store.
“The elderly men and women who were around us, they knew this Chinese boy was keen on te reo, they nurtured me and spoke to me,” he says.
“I've had a lot of practice at home, have received many instructions from the people here at home, let's say some are easy, some aren't as easy.”
On Monday, Foon will be formally welcomed to take up his new role as Race Relations Commissioner.