Published Monday 16 Oct 2023

Meet Henrietta, the Pacific Director at Tū Ora Compass Health. Hear how she embraces her Niue language and culture.

This year’s theme for Faahi Tapu he Vagahau Niue – Niue Language Week is ‘Fakatūleva e Vagahau Niue mo e Tau Aga Fakamotu ma e Tau Atuhau’, which means – Sustain Niue Language and Culture for Future Generations.

Henrietta Hunkin-Tagaloa, who hails from the villages of Mutulau (Niue) on her mother’s side, and Apia and Faleula (Samoa) on her father’s side, chatted to us about her passion for health care and music, and how they both impact her Pacific community. She even helped found and direct the choir ‘Pacific Connection’, who represented Aotearoa last year at the Barbershop Harmony World Championships, where they came 8th!

Read on to find out what Niue Language Week means to Henrietta.


Tell us about your job.
I’m the Pacific Director at Tū Ora Compass Health (PHO). I’ve been at Tū Ora for 12 years, and was appointed to this new role in February 2021.

Before that I was the Practice Development Team Manager so got to work closely with General Practices.              


Why did you choose a career in health?

To be honest, it was never something I planned on getting into. I worked part time at Karori Medical Centre as a receptionist while I studied towards my Music and Teaching degree.

On completion of my degree I decided to stay on and do some project work, and then decided that I really enjoyed being able to help people in this space. I still do a lot of music and teaching outside of work hours so I feel like I get the best of both worlds!                                      


What's your biggest work achievement or what are you most proud of?

I found that during the days of Covid-19 lockdowns, testing, and vaccination, people in the Pacific community found they were able to trust me and come to me for things they were unsure about. During this time, we were able to form stronger relationships with our Pacific leaders and communities to foster this trust and these relationships have opened doors to ways we can do things better in the health care system for Pacific communities.


What are some ways that you engage with your local community in Wellington?
My mum is quite active in the Niuean community and so I try as often as I can to go along to community events with her.

During the Covid-19 campaign, the Niuean community were really well coordinated through the leadership of another fellow Niuean, Dr. Alvin Mitikulena, and while the relationships have been strong, I believe they are even stronger now.

We also have a couple of Niuean singers in our choir and so we have learnt a couple of Niuean songs that we have performed here and overseas.


How important is it to celebrate your Language Week?

It’s so important to celebrate it, for those who speak it and those who don’t. I think it’s a really good way for people to have easy access to everyday language that can be incorporated into daily conversations.


What do you personally love about your community?
I love that it is a small tightknit community that is all about helping preserve and teach the language, especially to the young ones. I love how the kids are involved with language, dance, song, crafts, and in learning their Niuean culture.


How does speaking your language help in the health sector?
Sadly, I don’t actually speak the language, but I know that language is so important in helping navigate the health system. That’s why we try and maintain the relationships we do have to ensure each community and its leaders have easy access to information that is translated, or easily translatable.


Is there something that you would like to see changed for your people in the health system?
Lots! Definitely access— and timely access — that is suited to the needs of our people. More opportunities to enter the health workforce for Niuean people would be good to see too.


How do you embrace your culture and language?
Mainly through music; we get to learn about the language, the culture, the history of the song, and the story of the people who wrote them.