When the days get longer it always seems that little bit easier to look on the bright side. We can see a way through the cold nights, we can see hope in the bare garden just waiting to be sown for another season’s good eating. As winter sports wind up, we can all feel good about the achievements of the season and maybe even some wins – the cold mornings on the sidelines for tens of thousands of nans, koro, māmā and pāpā all over Te Waipounamu will suddenly seem like a distant memory.

As things pick up behind the scenes for Symposium 2023, I look at the line-up of speakers and feel the same kind of hope for what is to come.

As well as celebrating the mahi of those in our own backyard, it is always a forum to highlight a totally new perspective, a new way of being and doing, but one which we can relate to and take something from as we navigate our own paths.

This week, we highlight some of our special guests and panellists at Whānau Ora Symposium 2023. If you do not have your ticket yet, get in quick! For further panellist announcements, keep your eye on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

We also feature another special kaupapa, a recent Mana Tāne wānanga held under the glorious Tutumapou Maunga in Te Tauihu. The warmth of our hosts, Ngāti Kuia, set the scene for connection and lasting change.

Kia pai tō wā whakatā


Dame Valerie Adams

Dame Valerie Adams is undoubtedly the biggest track and field star New Zealand has ever seen. From 2006-2014 Dame Valerie enjoyed an unprecedented winning streak in 107 world athletics competitions. Major wins included back-to-back Olympic golds at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games, and four world championship titles.

In 2016, Dame Valerie added silver to her Olympic medal collection at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and was later appointed as a Dame of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Athletics. As a mother of two, Dame Valerie continued to compete at the top level and won bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (postponed to 2021) while also coaching younger sister Lisa to her gold medal win at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the shot put.

Dame Valerie is a leader and role model in the Pacific community and a seven-time Halberg Sportswoman of the Year.

Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh

Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former Commonwealth Poet, New Zealand Poet Laureate and an acclaimed performer and author. In 2019 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community. In 2020 Selina was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. A Professor in the English Department at the University of Auckland, Selina teaches Māori and Pacific Literature and Creative Writing.

Selina’s area of research focuses on first wave Pacific women poets and bringing silenced, marginalised indigenous literary voices to light. She designs and facilitates the leadership programme Growing Niu Leaders with Capability Group which aims at bringing cultural selves through corporate doors.

Selina has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Barack), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017). Her graphic memoir, Mophead (2019), won the Margaret Mahy Supreme Book in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It also won the Elsie Locke Best Non-Fiction Award. Its sequel, Mophead TU: The Queen’s Poem (2020) has been dubbed as ‘Colonialism 101 for Kids’.

The third book in the series, What Knot Ya Got?: Mophead’s Guide to Life is out this November.

Dave Letele (AKA Buttabean)

Former professional boxer, Dave Letele (AKA Brown Buttabean), is a South Auckland community leader who uses his platform to advocate for families in need.

Having grown up with a father who was the president of the Mongrel Mob and in and out of prison, Dave understands what it means to struggle. It took Dave a near-death experience to pull him out of a downward spiral. From there, he embarked on a journey that led to him owning several businesses, playing rugby league all over the world, becoming a professional boxer, losing almost 100kg in body weight, and starting over.

Dave is an inspiration to many. Starting his platform via his private Facebook group, Dave went on to found Buttabean Motivation (BBM) and he and his team currently work with public health and social service providers across Auckland to deliver BBM programmes. In 2022, Dave was named Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year for his incredible work across Aotearoa.

Mana Tāne wānanga

Te Hora Marae, at the foot of the glorious Tutumapou Maunga, is a significant gathering place for Ngāti Kuia. Continuing the tradition of it being a welcoming gathering place, the marae was the host venue last week for the second in a series of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu sponsored Mana Tāne wānanga.

The site of Te Hora Marae has been transformed from a block once covered in gorse and shrub to an impressive and proud, multi-purpose facility that well serves its community. It is a tribute to Ngāti Kuia and those who had the vision, passion, and determination to improve their circumstances and facilities. Our tāne similarly seek to make transformations in their own lives and in the whānau of those they support.

Kaihautū Wānanga, Te Ra Morris explained that “the idea to rejuvenate the mana tāne wānanga came out of COVID-19, where men in particular were struggling to find support”. The intent of the regional wānanga is to create local support networks and unite tāne from across Te Waipounamu, in a supportive environment that seeks to empower attendees with new tools to address challenges they or their whānau may encounter.

“I remember the last wānanga we had was awesome and I needed to bring my guys to experience the wānanga here,” said Whānau Ora Navigator and Champion Tyrone Smith. Smith led a rōpū of 10 tāne north from Ōtautahi for this event and has already turned his mind to how he can contribute to the Murihiku wānanga planned for the new year.