Dame Cindy Kiro: New Zealand’s first Māori woman to be Governor-General, on her ‘very poor’ upbringing and life of service

Dame Cindy Kiro says she hopes to inspire young wāhine to aim for the “very top” after being named New Zealand’s first wāhine Māori Governor-General.

Shortly after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today, Kiro reflected on her own “very poor” upbringing, and the “incredible” journey to get there.

“I really hope it is seen as a positive thing, you can reach the very top, and remember not only Māori and a woman, but pōhara, very poor, from a humble background.

“It truly is incredible standing here with this opportunity, and I hope young Māori girls, no matter where they come from in life, and all girls, take some inspiration from that.”

Kiro will take over the role in October from Dame Patsy Reddy, who will have reached the end of her five-year term.

Kiro will become the country’s fourth female in the role, and the first with Māori whakapapa.

Kiro has spent much of her career in the tertiary sector, holding a PhD in Social Policy and an MBA (Exec) in Business Administration.

She has held various professorships at multiple New Zealand universities, and most recently was Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori at the University of Auckland before taking up her current role as chief executive at the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

She has also advised multiple governments and various ministries.

She served as Children’s Commissioner from 2003 to 2009, from 2014 to 2018 she was a member of the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum for the Ministry of Education, and from 2018 to 2019 she chaired the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.

This year she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to child wellbeing and education in the 2021 New Year Honours.

When she was asked by Ardern to consider the Governor-General role, she said it was a “shock”, sending her back “slumped” into her chair.

But after the initial emotion, and “huge sense of gratitude and humility” and support from husband Dr Richard Davies, she saw it as “an opportunity to really serve our country”.

This notion of service had “gone to the heart” of everything she had done through her life, particularly around children, young people and those who didn’t have a voice to speak for themselves, she said.

“Service is an old-fashioned idea but still an important one.”

She was born in Whangārei in 1958, the eldest of six children, into a “very poor family”.

“My mother was born in a nīkau hut with a mud floor in the Far North. My father was born in the north of England in coal mining town.

“I know what it takes, hard work dedication and perseverance to actually succeed in life.

“I have used that academic success as way of progressing through life, while raising a family and trying to contribute to my community.”

She said her heritage was a “unique marriage”, being of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahu and British descent.

“I am proudly Māori, and part British,” she said,

“So I bring with this a unique marriage, an understanding of the foundational basis of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its place in our history.”

Asked what she thought of race relations today in New Zealand, Kiro said New Zealand had “done a pretty good job, but we have got some way to go”.

The Governor-General role came with the patronage of many organisations, including working with children, young people, mental health, innovation and education, homelessness and those with complex needs, she said.

These were all areas she had “championed and worked on” in the past, and she hoped to be able to continue to do so, she said.

Asked what she thought of the role of the monarchy in New Zealand in 2021 and her views on calls for the country to become a republic, she said “clearly” she accepted the Queen as head of state.

“I am here to support her and act in the role of Governor-General, perform a duty around uniting the country.”

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