TupuToa Gala Dinner 2019

Our Gala Dinner this year was something special. A partner in attendance said, 'passion flowed through the room; it was palpable and contagious!' We couldn't have choreographed the evening any better than it turned out. The magic felt that evening was a result of the need for organisations like ours and the impact of this important kaupapa.

At all of our major events this year the instruction upon arrival has been to ‘follow the drums’. Gala Dinner was no exception. Our cook island brothers from Anuanua Performing Arts Troupe set the literal tempo of the event as guests trickled into the foyer of the Cordis, adjacent to the Great Room where the Gala would be held.

The doors of the Great Room were soon opened and guests were called into the room with a powhiri and invited to be seated. We were then treated to a performance by the Hatea Kapa Haka Group. You might recognize them from the Te Matatini Kapa Haka competition held last month in Wellington; they performed a stunning rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody that has since gone viral.

Our co-chair, Rangimarie Hunia, opened the evening. She invited our cohort of 150 interns and their whanau in attendance to stand and said the following, ‘For our guests who are here, if you have any doubt about what you have come into. This is what it is about [pointing to the interns and whanau]. It is not just about individual students who are on a journey toward employment, far from, this is about a movement, this is about community empowerment, this is about families and the transformation toward rangatiratanga’.

Hon Aupito William Sio, in good humour, apologised for not being the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and expressed her regret that she could not join us. He also noted that the CEO of Air New Zealand, Christopher Luxon, was present and quickly informed Christopher that his flight from the capital was delayed. Jokes at bay, Aupito had a powerful message for everyone there, ‘Tupu, Toa, those words are very powerful: [it means] young warriors, growing strong people, growing fearless people. They are words that resonate. They speak both to the heart of our identity as Polynesian, as Māori, and to the enormous potential we hold for the future of Aotearoa, New Zealand; of a better and more culturally inclusive society. If we as a new and vibrant pacific nation are to reach our fullest potential, it is critical that we recognise the advantages of seeing and doing things from a Māori and Pacific perspective. We must understand that these different perspectives are not a barrier, but an asset.’

Air New Zealand has been a principal partner of TupuToa since the inception of our programme. To conclude his remarks, Christopher Luxton (CEO, Air NZ) challenged the interns, 'You’ve now got a choice to make. You’ve got to decide how you’re going to use these opportunities to build the lives you dream of. Because that decision will determine not only the kinds of people you’ll become, but also the kinds of communities you’ll live in [and] the kind of world we’ll all share together.'

It was important to us that a whanau representative shared their perspective on the night. We invited Maria Fuata, mother of Wilson Fuata intern with ARUP this Summer to speak. She was thoughtful and genuine and her message resonated with many of the mother/father figures in the room. We value our connection to whanau. Thank you for entrusting your taonga with us this Summer.

Our intern speakers were phenomenal. We invited seven interns to speak. We were unaware that the interns we selected had all received offers of full time employment at the conclusion of their studies. Congratulations to these fantastic rangatahi! Let them show you themselves how eloquently they spoke about their internship and life journey. Click into any one the following links to view their scripts:

Te Huia Painora-Hepi, BNZ

Wynona Dekker, ANZ

Falcon Karangaroa, Z Energy

Letitia Puni, Fletcher Building

Caleb Poe, BNZ

Davida Iosefa, EY

Edmond Carrucan, Corrections

Following dessert we were treated to an item by Detriech Soakai, spoken word poet and Programme Director at Brothers in Arms. He gave his number out to everybody in the room and instructed them to text him a word that he would then use to freestyle. Hundreds of texts flooded his phone and he strung the words together in an effortless rap. He was also invited to observe the events of previous day, our Leadership Wananga, and host a workshop on ‘Letter’s to Self’. At the Gala Dinner he presented a spoken word piece titled, ‘Keep Showing Up’.

Our night of festivities ended on a high from two of TupuToa’s finest – CEO Anne Fitisemanu and co-chair of TupuToa board Leopino Foliaki. Our CEO made a heart-warming speech, thanking everyone in attendance for helping to create a better, more diverse and inclusive Aotearoa. Her heart for our Māori and Pacific communities shone through, and was quickly followed by an impromptu, moving haka from our interns to show their gratitude for the love and support that Anne has shown them.

Leopino had the daunting task of ending the night which he quipped was something he thought would be an easier task than opening the night. However, he quickly realised it was harder to end because of the electric atmosphere that was created in the beginning and continued throughout the night. He did a wonderful job, however, and the many people he thanked in his speech that helped to make the night possible was symbolic of the unity that we all felt that night – the unity that is required to keep TupuToa alive and running. Kia ora rawa atu to everyone for your attendance, support and love.

Photography by Nigel King, Whitedoor Photography. View full album here.

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