Without continuing to practice her Rotuman culture, language and values, To’a Le' Haharągit (Youth) Award winner Tieri Carswell (pictured) says part of her would be missing.
“Even though we are far from our homeland, staying connected through these practices when done correctly can only strengthen our foundation for longevity,” Tieri says.
This year, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) has introduced the Language Champion Honours as part of the Pacific Language Weeks series, to recognise people who contribute to, and are committed to nurturing their Pacific language, culture, and heritage.
To’a is a term used in Rotuma to describe people who showcase strength, endurance, hard work, perseverance, and resilience, so the Rotuman Language Champion awards ceremony, staged on the final day of Rotuman Language Week 2021 (May 15), was named the To’a Awards.
Tieri, the Deputy Chair for the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship (NZRF) collected the Youth award for the energy she pours into the Rotuman community daily, as well as working co-owning Dear2Us Gift Boxes, and working as an Operations Lead for Fonterra.
Throughout the years, Tieri has participated at Rotuman events, dance performance and youth camps, promoting the Rotuman language and culture in every possible way.
While she could understand Rotuman from a young age, she did not start learning the language in-depth until two years ago when she joined Pasifika Education Centre (PEC) Rotuman language classes, she explains.
Through the Rotuman community space, she has created and planned workshops for the young youths to participate, seek out knowledge holders in the language and culture to support members of their group and invited others to join in as well.
Tieri is also involved in many projects outside of the Rotuman community to help other Pacific communities while advocating for the Rotuman people through government departments and agencies.
The Rotuman community leader says it is an honour to receive an inaugural To’a Award.
“It’s not just mine however, there have been so many people within our NZRF community who have been paving the way for over 30 years, and who have gone unrecognised.
“Although I am a recipient of the first To’a Awards, I would not have been here if it was not for the likes of my parents, aunties and uncles who taught us week in and week out to make sure we had our culture and values instilled in us and that we would forget who we were.”
Tieri says it is crucial Rotuman Language Week is celebrated, as it is an opportunity to showcase and educate people in New Zealand and abroad about our unique language and culture.
“When you are delivering your language week there is always a sense of pride in there too, especially knowing the blood, sweat and tears our elders have worked to keep our correct language and culture within our NZRF alive.”
As a late starter in learning Rotuman, Tieri hopes to inspire others to start their journey of embracing their language and culture, no matter what stage of life they are at.
“I would also like to show our Pasifika communities here in Aotearoa it is in our best interest we create safe learning environments for all people to learning our culture and languages.”
The Rotuman language is listed on the UNESCO list of endangered languages as "vulnerable".
Tieri, along with the two other To’a Award recipients, Sopapelu Samisoni, winner of the Fāat (Male) award, and Hąnit (Female) recipient Darlene Inia, are doing all they can to ensure Rotuman is revitalised and nurtured in Aotearoa.