Cultural connection . . . Waitaki District Council's new Tuia Programme intern Safiya Hunter (18) hopes the programme will bring her closer to her Maori heritage. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Safiya Hunter has always felt like she was missing out on a part of herself – and she hopes her new internship at the Waitaki District Council will help fill in some of the gaps.

Miss Hunter is this year’s Tuia Programme intern.

The 18-year-old will spend the year under the mentorship of Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher and Deputy Mayor Melanie Tavendale.

Throughout the programme she will collaborate with the council, visit marae and attend conventions focused on Maori culture and leadership.

The programme was first established in 2011 to help develop the leadership skills of young Maori people within their communities.

Miss Hunter hoped the programme would give her more “background and connection” to her Maori culture and identity.

Her mother is Dutch and her father is Maori, but he was adopted into a New Zealand European family.

“We don’t know our iwi.

“If you can look into where you are from, you can connect with more people.

“I could have more family that I haven’t met yet.”

She was not as well versed in te reo or tikanga Maori as she would like to be, so she was looking forward to what the programme would offer, in terms of meeting Maori people who were fluent in te reo or had shared a similar experience to her.

So far, she had been on a tour of the Waitaki District Council building, helped out at last weekend’s Friendly Bay Family Fun Day, and would visit a marae and attend a conference in Hamilton this weekend.

“I’m excited to get involved with the community.”

Miss Hunter was put forward for the programme by Te Runanga o Moeraki Upoko David Higgins and manager Justin Tipa.

They thought she was a good candidate – and Mr Kircher agreed.

This was the second time the Waitaki District Council was running the programme, and Mr Kircher enjoyed the intergenerational collaboration and cultural insight.

“There are things we’ll both learn along the way,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to the year ahead – hopefully learning as much as I am teaching.”