By Aroha Awarau
Two years ago, TV presenter and New Zealand men's netball captain Kruze Tangira felt shamed and embarrassed at his lack of te reo Māori skills. But he's since turned those feelings into a powerful motivator to learn the language and immerse himself in te ao Māori.
Now working as a journalist for daily Māori news show Te Karere, 31-year-old Tangira was compelled to upskill in te reo after attending a netball training camp with the Waikato men's team.
At the beginning of the camp, each player was required to recite their pepeha, their family history, and introduction in Māori. Tangira didn't know his by heart and read it off his phone instead.
"I was told off for not knowing my pepeha. Others were looking at me with judgement. It was a shameful and embarrassing moment. But it pushed me to do something about it," he says.
Tangira (Te Atiawa, Tūwharetoa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) grew up in the Taranaki town of Waitara, but rarely visited the local marae. Te reo Māori was not spoken in his home.
"I was brought up in a Christian church, so we spent most of our time at the church and not at the marae," he says.
"I was even ashamed to do kapa haka when I was younger because I didn't feel like I had the right to perform because I didn't know much about my Māori culture."
In 2021, the former Air New Zealand flight attendant made a year-long commitment and enrolled in the total immersion language course at Te Wānanga Takiura o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa in Auckland.
Tangira says he hoped the year of learning te reo Māori would help him reconnect and gain a sense of belonging with his culture.
"I remember the first day of class. I didn't know anyone and I felt really uncomfortable. But I knew the desire to speak Māori was far greater than the doubts I was feeling at the time," he says.
"My first two weeks were spent trying to find a safe space in an environment that was new to me. It took me a while to feel comfortable within a culture that is my own."
During his studies, Tangira says he was inspired by the reo Māori journey taken by people he had watched on TV, like actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand and TVNZ Breakfast host and former Silver Fern player Jenny-May Clarkson. In fact, he had saved a TV interview that Ward-Lealand had given in Māori and watched it repeatedly to encourage him.
"I watched that interview all the time because she was speaking Māori like it was her first language. When I first watched it, I had no idea what she was saying. Now, I know what she is talking about and can follow her word for word."
Soon after graduating, Tangira saw an ad from TVNZ looking for a journalist for Te Karere.
Previously, as the captain of the New Zealand men's netball team, Tangira had become a regular Sky Sports netball commentator on TV. He is also an aspiring actor, having graduated from Unitec in Auckland with a performing arts degree. Even with his broadcasting and performance background, Tangira didn't rate his chances of getting a job at Te Karere because he still considered himself a newcomer to the language.
To his surprise, he was offered the role the same day that he interviewed for the job. He started his role at the beginning of this year.
"My only goal after graduation was to be able to speak Māori confidently and have a conversation. I never thought knowing how to speak Māori could help me in a brand new career."
Tangira admits feeling intimidated being around fluent and expert speakers in the Te Karere newsroom but says his colleagues (including Scotty Morrison) are supporting and helping him grow.
"On my first day, I was petrified. There's an outside perception when you work for a Māori news programme like Te Karere that you are fluent. I can speak and converse in Māori but I'm not a fluent speaker like the other journalists around me.
"I have to give myself credit. It's only been 18 months since I've started speaking Māori. I'm proud of how far I've come. I know that that journey doesn't stop here. I'm determined to push myself to get better."
Tangira was sent to the recent Netball World Cup in South Africa in August to cover the tournament for TVNZ and did daily live crosses in te reo Māori. Combining his love for netball and his culture made him realise how far he had come.
"I'm glad I was able to right past wrongs. I now feel more confident about being Māori."