Keeping gagana Tokelau front of mind

posted: 8:00 pm - 24th November 2019
Gabrielle myself 2 of my kids Tialemua and Te Mauri and my mum Susana Lemisio this pic was taken when she received her NZ Order of Merit

(Picture caption: Vaka Lemisio with his wife Gabrielle, two of their children Tialemua and Te Mauri, and Vaka's mum Susana Lemisio on the day when she received a New Zealand Order of Merit.) 

To serve his Tokelauan community is part and parcel of Vaka Lemisio’s upbringing.

“I have been serving the Tokelau community since I was young and my parents were actively involved before I was even born,” Vaka says.

The New Zealand-born Tokelauan, who is based in Lower Hutt, currently works as a Planner for CentrePort Limited, and has spent time working in the Industrial Recruitment Industry, and at the Ministry of Social Development.

Outside of work however, his time is largely taken up supporting various initiatives within the Tokelauan community.

He is a parent helper at Petone Tokelau Sunday School where his three children attend; he has always been involved with Tokelau Hutt Valley Sports and Culture Association; and he has recently been appointed Assistant Treasurer there. 

“I am currently involved in Wellington Tokelau Rugby League and am excited about encouraging a pathway in rugby league for young people,” he says.

Through sport and cultural groups, Vaka and his wife Gabrielle have maintained a strong sense of their Tokelauan identity and culture, something always encouraged by Vaka’s parents.

“My parents’ involvement in the Tokelau community has been integral in the shaping the thinking and active engagement of my involvement.”

This type of engagement allows you to grow and learn about your own language, culture and connection, he adds.

“My mum came from Tokelau in the 1960s and has always encouraged the Tokelau language and culture through her children. 

“So, I’ve continued this through my children, involving them in the Sacred Heart Petone Kaulotu activities.   

In recent years, Vaka says he and Gabrielle have made a commitment to learning more about aganuku Tokelau (the Tokelau culture) through establishing film recordings on Tokelau narratives between grandparents, parents and children.

“My wife has played a major role with putting the Tokelau Heritage stories together, which were first released for the first released for the 2018 Tokelau Language Week, supported by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) – and a second lot of stories were released for this year’s Language Week.

“It has been a real privilege to spend time with the families featured.

“The common theme is language, culture, connection and the importance of inter-generational connection.”

In the latest census, it shows most Tokelauans living in New Zealand are born here also, speak less Tokelauan and they are of multiple ethnic backgrounds.

“Involvement in family and community is critical to keeping the language alive – as is Tokelau Language Week.

“It acknowledges Tokelau language and culture is part of New Zealand.”

Tokelau has been New Zealand’s most Northern Territory since 1948, and it is part of the realm countries along with the Cook Islands and Niue.

Tokelau Language Week creates awareness around the fact that Tokelauan a language at risk, and most people do not speak it daily.

“It is also another way of growing positive mindsets for children of Tokelauan ancestry, so they know they have a place on the global stage.”

The 2019 Pacific Language Week series recently concluded, but it is held annually. Visit MPP for resources.