Mayor Meng Foon grew up with te reo Māori

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon is the only mayor in the country who is a fluent speaker of Te Reo Māori.

"This was our language nest," Foon gestures, "My house is over there, our gardens are in Matawhero.  There were many who worked with us from my father and mother's generation."

His Chinese parents had a grocery store at Mākaraka, just south of Tūranga Nui ā Kiwa on the East Coast.

"The multitudes from Turanga and Ngāti Porou would come to this store to buy produce and they would speak their distinct language to us, to my brother and I, so we were extremely fortunate and I liked how they spoke."

While growing up and throughout high school, Foon was fortunate to interact with elders who were steeped in the traditions of the people of the East Coast.

 “At that time I was the leader of the cultural group and Anaru Takurua told me, 'boy, make your eyes wide', so I told him 'I'm a Chinese’.

Foon has developed that leadership over time, serving the East Coast as mayor of Gisborne for the last nine years.

 “That's the beautiful thing, I can understand their thought.   I'm trying hard to meet their wishes within the council, it can be difficult at times but that's fine, the work continues.”

Mayor Foon is grateful to those who have nurtured him within the unique language of the Te Tairāwhiti.