One of my first jobs at the Rotorua Daily Post 20 years ago was calling our lovely kaumatua Anaru Rangiheuea to ask for his comment on a story.

Previously I was a fully fledged Timaruvian (from Timaru in the South Island), so needless to say, I hadn't exactly been immersed in Maori culture.

I don't recall too much about tikanga or Maori history being taught at my schools and I was pretty confused that time our teacher showed us some Maori rock drawings while on a school camp at Raincliff. I remember thinking, "What on earth are we looking at these for?"

For those confused about my Maori surname, I used to be Kelly Blanchard before getting married 10 years ago.


When I started at this newspaper our then editor took one look at me and handed me the Maori Affairs beat to cover.

It had everything to do with my glowing summer tan and a bone carving I was wearing and nothing to do with my knowledge or education.

I was naturally a little shocked, but being a young keen reporter I wasn't about to question him.

Back to that phone call.

I had a crack at saying Mr Rangiheuea's name in my head but when he answered the phone out came something completely different.

I knew I had been ignorant and it was wrong. But Mr Rangiheuea just laughed it off and asked me where I was from (maybe he expected me to say Australia).

Within a week I enrolled in a Maori language night course at the then Waiariki Polytechnic.

As we start to celebrate Maori Language Week today, I'm proud to say I've learned the basics of our beautiful official language of New Zealand.

While I certainly can't speak fluently, I am able to say words and a few sentences adequately.

Already my three part-Maori daughters are having more Maori language and tikanga education than I ever had - and that makes me proud.