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Don’t limit our ambitions

Zaley Tamihana-Brown had people tell her she would not finish high school, would likely be pregnant before she did anyway, and end up on the dole. All because she was a young Maori woman. Those stereotypes just made her more determined. Zaley speaks to Sophie Rishworth about using her latest achievement as a way of breaking down those stereotypes.

Zaley Tamihana-Brown hopes there are young Maori women reading this right now who will be motivated by her story. She knows she is not the only one to have people dismiss her, not see her as likely to achieve . . . or worse, tell her any achievement is due to special treatment because she is Maori.

Instead of getting upset about it, the 22-year-old Gisborne woman has used it as motivation.

Last week, Zaley was announced as a finalist in Miss Asia Pacific International New Zealand — one of only 13 finalists from around the country.

“I am quite a shy and usually quiet person, and this is way out of my comfort zone. But you know what they say, growth isn’t made inside your comfort zone.”

Zaley grew up watching beauty pageants and would like to use her latest achievement to change what she sees as a major hurdle of stereotyping.

“I had a few people who told me I wouldn’t make it through school.

“I was a kid at the time so I didn’t quite understand what they were saying. As I got older I realised it wasn’t a nice thing to say.

“There are quite a few people who say those things.”

Zaley did finish high school, she received a scholarship to Otago University which influenced her shift down south, and she now works at Dunedin Hospital as an enrolled nurse in general surgery.

“I struggled quite a lot at school, but made it through NCEA, got level three, and achieved university entrance.”

She didn’t struggle because she was a young Maori woman. She struggled because she missed a lot of school.

Zaley is a twin, and when they were 13-years-old her twin Tammy had a kidney transplant. Their dad was the donor.

In the lead-up to this the family spent a lot of time at Starship Hospital — so much so that they became ambassadors for Ronald McDonald House. It was like a second home for the family during a difficult time.

The twins would go to school lessons up there but sometimes Zaley was sent back home to attend school. Often the school work covered was not what they were learning, plus it was hard being separated from Tammy and having to leave her behind at Starship.

They helped each other out a lot though.

“Tammy’s my biggest motivation. We’ve been through a lot together.”

Their dad’s kidney is still going strong for Tammy, even though doctors told them it would only last five years. It has now been 11 years since the transplant.

During her last year at Tolaga Bay Area School, Zaley won a scholarship to attend Otago University for one year.

That was when the stereotypes got worse, she said.

“People would tell me I would get special treatment because I was Maori.

“I want to change that stereotype, bring it to light.

“Not all Maori women leave school and get pregnant.

“I hope a lot of those still at school see me, and do well themselves at school, leave home and explore the world.

“I have a lot of people to talk to, so I know I am not the only one going through these things.

“My platform is to change major stereotypes.”

Zaley later went on to complete her nursing studies through Otago Polytechnic where she was supported by her fellow classmates and tutors, and did not experience any criticism about being Maori while she was studying at the polytechnic.

Zaley’s iwi affiliations are Te-Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Nga Ariki Kaiputahi and Ngai Tamanuhiri.

They have a very big extended family. Zaley and Tammy are the 25th and 26th moko out of 49, who are all very supportive of their whanau.

Tammy’s illness is also the reason Zaley became a nurse.

“We were really young when we first went to Auckland.”

One of the Starship Hospital nurses gave her a stethoscope and taught her how to take her sister’s blood pressure.

Zaley started to visit other children in the ward, and became determined to work in the health profession.

But now the focus is on the upcoming pageant in June.

She has bought high heels to practice in.

Needs community helpPart of the Miss Asia Pacific International New Zealand pageant is to auction an item that represents the competitor’s community.

Zaley also needs a sponsor, as the travel and accommodation — especially if she makes it to the international final — will add up.

Anyone interested in sponsoring Zaley, or who knows a great item from Tairawhiti that would be perfect for the auction, can contact her parents Venice Tamihana-Brown and Sam Brown who live in Tolaga Bay on samandvinny@gmail.com

Zaley Tamihana-Brown.
Zaley Tamihana-Brown.