Real-life reads

Gene ge­nie Ori­ini; Meet my mini fash­ion­ista

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - What a Week! -

Cy­clone Cook was bat­ter­ing the coun­try, but the top story on New Zealand’s big­gest news web­sites was about an Auck­land wo­man who was at the cen­tre of a ame­dia me­dia storm af­ter be­ing found to

be “full-blooded Maori”. Jour­nal­ist and sin­gle mother-of-four

Ori­iniii i Kaipara,i 33, whoh presents Maori Tele­vi­sion’s Na­tive Af­fairs, had taken a DNA test for a story and was sur­prised to dis­cover that al­though she has European an­ces­tors, her par­ents had passed on only their nonPakeha genes.

Un­veil­ing the re­sults, as­ton­ished ge­net­ics ex­pert Brad Ar­gent re­vealed that Ori­ini was “100% Maori”, which made her “unique”. He ex­plained, “In the world, we’re all be­com­ing a lit­tle more mixed and it’s quite un­usual to find any­one pure of just one thing.”

The in­ter­net went crazy and Ori­ini fielded in­ter­view re­quests from as far away as the UK. “There was an ac­tual storm out­side, but I hardly no­ticed be­cause my phone would not stop go­ing off,” she tells Wo­man’sDay. “While I knew the story was go­ing to push some but­tons, I didn’t re­alise how big it would be.”

Though con­tro­ver­sial, Ori­ini – who is of Tuhoe, Ngati Awa, Tuwhare­toa and Te Arawa de­scent – is pleased by the at­ten­tion her story brought Na­tiveAf­fairs and says, “It’s pos­i­tive to have a healthy de­bate about what it means to be Maori.”

As for the re­sults, she in­sists, “It doesn’t de­fine who I am. It doesn’td ’ changeh me. I’m proud of my Pakeha roots. There are peo­ple who are way more Maori than me – they live, breathe, eat and sleep the lan­guage and cul­ture. I ad­mire and sa­lute them.”

While there were a lot of neg­a­tive re­ac­tions on­line, Ori­ini says she tried not to look at them. “It was my own per­sonal story and I didn’t want to get caught up in the com­ments. The only peo­ple’s opin­ions I was wor­ried about were those of my whanau and my chil­dren – and they thought it was cool.” The kids now want to take the test them­selves, but their mum has sim­ply told them, “You don’t need to. You’re as Maori as you feel.”


Whakatane-born Ori­ini had just turned 16 and left school to study law when she dis­cov­ered she was ex­pect­ing her son Paetawhiti, now 16.

She re­calls, “I was in de­nial. I knew some­thing was up, but I didn’t bother to check as I thought I was too young to get preg­nant. I was five months gone be­fore I prop­erly found out. It was a shock.”

But there were more sur­prises to come. Paetawhiti was born just one month later, with un­der-de­vel­oped lungs, and it was a year be­foreb f Ori­iniii i could ld take her pre­ma­ture in­fant home from hospi­tal. In the mean­time, the teen mum fell preg­nant to her daugh­ter Te Aomi­hia, now 15, by the same ex-boyfriend.

“We were in and out of hospi­tal for two and a half years,” re­calls Ori­ini. “It was stress­ful and scary. Be­ing a teenager, I coped as best I could, but ev­ery day was a strug­gle.”

When Te Aomi­hia was six months old, Ori­ini’s mother sat her daugh­ter down and told her, “Look, I don’t want you to stay at home and be a statis­tic. I’ll look af­ter the ba­bies, but you need to get your life sorted.”

That same day, the teen was look­ing through a news­pa­per and saw an ad for the South Seas Film & Tele­vi­sion School. Hav­ing been told at her wharekura (Maori lan­guage-im­mer­sion high school) that she’d be great on TV, Ori­ini called up and was told to ap­ply for a schol­ar­ship. Two days later, she was awarded one.

“It was a turn­ing point and the wake-up call I needed,” she re­mem­bers. “I loved it and worked my butt off the whole time so I didn’t muck up my op­por­tu­nity. I strug­gled a bit with the English, so they let me do all my as­sign­ments

in Maori. I learnt and grew so much, and I over­came the shame I put on my­self for be­ing a teen mum.”


Af­ter South Seas, Ori­ini worked for TVNZ news show TeKarere be­fore train­ing as a jour­nal­ist at ra­dio sta­tion Ruia Mai and mov­ing on to the doc­u­men­tary se­ries Waka Huia. She got a job at Maori Tele­vi­sion when it started in 2004, went back to TeKarere and now fronts the award­win­ning Na­tiveAf­fairs.

In be­tween, she and her ex-hus­band had two more chil­dren, son Nikau, 11, and daugh­ter Ngaron­gokahira, four, with a heav­ily preg­nant Ori­ini at one stage suf­fer­ing Brax­ton Hicks con­trac­tions (false labour) while pre­sent­ing TeKaea.

Now her two el­dest are teenagers, Ori­ini has shared her story, telling them, “Don’t be like me. Live your life first.” When they told her she’d done a good job, she replied, “I learned the hard way. You don’t have to go through what I did.”

How­ever, Ori­ini is con­fi­dent that her chil­dren will make bet­ter choices than she did. She smiles, “My kids are pretty awe­some. They re­mind me of the im­por­tant things in life and keep me grounded.”

The Na­tiveAf­fairs pre­sen­ter was sur­prised to dis­cover she has only Maori genes. Right: With her sis­ter Te Raina at a kapa haka com­pe­ti­tion.

Ori­ini has told her kids (from left) Te Aomi­hia, Nikau, Ngaron­gokahira and Paetawhiti that “you’re as Maori as you feel”.

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