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Pride in Tairawhiti

Whiti Timutimu is the Tairawhiti Diversity Liaison Officer and a founding member of Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action. Matai O’Connor spoke with her to find out what she does and why she does it . . .

Serving the community with the hopes of creating an inclusive community for everyone is a goal of Whiti Timutimu’s.

Ms Timutimu was born and raised in Ruatoki which is in the Eastern Bay of Plenty but moved to Tairawhiti to connect to her Ngati Porou whakapapa.

“I am Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Porou and Ngati Awa. I lived most of my younger life with Ngai Tuhoe but my adult life I have been living in Tairawhiti to connect with my Ngati Porou whakapapa.”

She moved to the East Coast in 2003 and taught at Ngata College in Ruatoria.

Ms Timutimu always wanted to be a police officer and in 2004 she went to a recruitment seminar in Ruatoria and started the process.

“When I was going through secondary school they told me it would be a good idea to get life experience before joining the police. I applied for everything and got accepted into the Hamilton Teacher Training College and decided to do that first.

“I entered the police force in 2005 and after my two years on the street I started specialising as an iwi liaison officer.”

Ms Timutimu’s role within the Maori Pacific and Ethnic Services office, New Zealand Police National Headquarters is the Tairawhiti Diversity Liaison Officer.

“I got the role in October last year so I’m still fresh to it.”

Earlier this year she was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to criminal justice programmes and the community.

In her personal time she supports rangatahi with youth mentoring programmes run under the Atawhai Charitable Trust.

One of these support roles includes working with Qmunity — a group for LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning, and Intersex) rangatahi in Gisborne.

Qmunity has been in place since 2015.

“It was a need as we had rangatahi who were vulnerable and attempting suicide. The clinical health system in place wasn’t working for them so we knew we needed to provide a safe space for youth to come talk and support one another.

“Most of our tuakana (older youth) have left but there are a few still in Gisborne who support the group.

“Tuakana teina (older people helping younger people) aspect is something we really want. The older ones can help and hand over the mantle to those coming through and pave the way to make it easier for them to be them and have a safe place in Tairawhiti.”

She is a founding member of Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action.

“Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action grew out of the role as Diversity Liaison officer.

“I wanted to create something that works towards making Tairawhiti a more inclusive and safe community for rainbow whanau.

“I wanted to make sure it’s future proof and not just me doing it alone. So I tapped the shoulders of people I know in the area who would want to do this and that’s how Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action was created.

“There’s a lot of mahi we can do with Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action. I think we have the ability to create positive change right across the region. It’s not just about rangatahi, it’s about everyone.

“One of the catch phrases in the police is ‘safer communities together’ so we actually need to action that by thinking how we can make Tairawhiti a safer community for our rainbow whanau.

“There are opportunities available to promote diversity.”

During the local body elections Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action held a meet-the-candidates evening, the first LGBTQI-focussed candidate meeting in Gisborne’s history.

Candidates were asked what they would do to make the Tairawhiti community safe for LGBTQI people.

“Hearing from them was important. We can go back to them and hold them accountable for what they said.

“We also had the rainbow police car in the annual Christmas parade. It was the first time there had been an LGBTQI-focused float.

“It provided a platform for our rangatahi and adults to promote diversity and be ourselves.

“It was the icing on the cake having the car there — it might be a small thing but it meant heaps.”

Ms Timutimu said they have great things planned for next year.

“We are looking at running our own pride event in Gisborne next year — Pride at the Pa is what we are going to call it.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be with one another and get other whanau who have moved away to come back and celebrate with us.

“It will be a chance to promote our rainbow whanau in this community and celebrate them. We haven’t done that in Gisborne before.

“Hopefully we can get the Gisborne District Council to support us and fly the pride flag outside the council building.

“If they can fly it at Parliament there’s no reason why they can’t have it on our flag pole and maybe one at the police station too.”

Ms Timutimu loves living in Gisborne.

“How could you not love it? It’s beautiful and we have good communities with good people in them who often give their time up to serve their communities.”

She has been married to Kristin McGill since 2014 and they live here in Gisborne with their 16-year-old daughter Maia.

“After Louisa Wall got the Marriage Equality Act passed, that was us — we got married.”

Ms Timutimu made headlines last year when she became the first New Zealand police officer with a moko kauae.

“Often in my life I give time to commit to various things in the community. This was one thing I wanted to do for myself.

“My kuia (elder woman) had kauae and it was something I always wanted to do so in October last year, I was ready to get it.”

Traditionally the eldest in the family should receive it first so she had to ask her older sister and aunts for permission to get it.

“They all agreed and I got my kauae with my whanau. As soon as I got it I did feel different. I think that’s the wairua side, the connection back to my whakapapa — it was a special time.

“There was a campaign about tattoos and ta moko for police. It promoted that we are inclusive of everything you bring.

“One thing that has happened is another woman in the Tairawhiti police has got a moko kauae as well.

“Reactions from the public have been positive. Sometimes you forget about it and see people staring at it.

“People have said ‘wow I didn’t know police had moko kauaue’.”

TO SERVE EVERYONE: Whiti Timutimu serves the community and aspires to make Tairawhiti inclusive of everyone. She was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for her work in the community and services to criminal justice programmes. Picture supplied
PROUD: The Rainbow police car took part in the Gisborne Christmas parade this year. Whiti Timutimu drove it followed by Qmunity youth, Tairawhiti Rainbow-Action members, rainbow whanau and allies. Picture by PhillyT Photography