These days, the Mt Maunganui couple are proof that total immersion learning can be a springboard to great careers. Between them, they’re creating content that’s clocked up more than nine million views.
“Te reo and tikanga Māori are our points of difference. We have an edge and that’s why we can excel,” says Kaire-Melbourne, who was raised and schooled in the rural Tūhoe settlement of Ruatoki.
Pewhairangi (Ngāti Porou) was educated in Palmerston North. He says that when he left kura, the students made a commitment to progress the Māori language by forging successful careers in their varied industries.
“When we graduated, we made an oath. We had a saying: ‘Ka puta hei raukura mo te iwi’, meaning we will go out and serve our people,” he says.
“We had spaces like Whakaata Māori and iwi radio because we had a generation that fought to have those spaces there for us kohanga kids to step into. It’s now our obligation to progress te reo Māori and move it into new spaces. It’s fulfilling to be doing something that is greater than ourselves.”
Today, the pair run successful media businesses. Pewhairangi specialises in social media; having a huge following on his TikTok and Instagram accounts and fulfilling contracts to create content for large organisations and events like the Fifa World Cup and Rugby New Zealand.
Kaire-Melbourne focuses on longer format documentaries, recently receiving funding for the second series of Homesteads, a show on Whakaata Māori that tells stories of whānau and their beloved dwellings. The pair are in demand as te reo Māori and tikanga consultants for corporate and government organisations. Pewhairangi is also a commentator in Māori at major sports events.
“Being so young, we took a leap of faith when we decided to start our own companies,” says Kaire-Melbourne.
“There were times when we doubted ourselves, but we were lucky to have each other, rather than feeling isolated. It paid off.”
Kaire-Melbourne’s company, Te Imurangi, is named after the first exhibition at an art gallery called Te Ao Kōhatu that was established in the 90s by Tūhoe activist Tame Iti. Her mother Tania Melbourne helped manage the gallery.
“The inspiration around my storytelling style derives from the fact that I grew up around a lot of Māori activists who were pushing boundaries. I was always surrounded by storytellers,” says Kaire-Melbourne, whose aunt is pioneer broadcaster Tini Molyneux.
Pewhairangi also has an inspirational whānau. His nanny is Ngoi Pewhairangi, the composer of the international hit song Poi E and one of the pioneers of the revitalisation of te reo Māori.
“I grew up knowing about our whānau legacy and learning about the power of our language,” he says.
The couple formed a close bond at Whakaata Māori, when they started as reporters on the same day in 2016. They then moved into the subtitles team that translates shows in Māori into English.
While still working for Whakaata Māori, they decided to do a joint Masters degree at Waikato University under supervisor Professor Rangi Matamua. Their thesis broke down the role of Māori media from an indigenous lens, with the aim to look at how media can be taught from a Māori perspective.
“Ultimately, we created a model that outlined a Māori-specific approach to broadcasting and media,” says Kaire-Melbourne.
“We looked at six things that you have to consider as a Māori broadcaster for productions to run smoothly, like tikanga, culture, te reo, and how you conduct yourself in front of and behind the camera.”
The pair received the government Ngarimu VC Scholarship for their study and plan to continue their work by studying towards a PhD.
Kaire-Melbourne and Pewhairangi are the seeds that were planted by their kaumatua, who realised that their generation would help te reo Māori survive. They acknowledge that they must continue the fight.
“Our teachers were firm about us knowing who we were and where we come from,” says Pewhairangi.
“Everything that I do contributes to the revitalisation of te reo and tikanga Māori. It is healing and a way forward for our people who are looking to reconnect to who they are.”