“Proud to be Māori” is a campaign launched by Te Whānau o Waipareira in April this year, and the powerful campaign imagery features Rotorua lawyer Tumanako Silveira. Tumanako is quite possibly the first Māori man with a mataora to have been admitted to the bar. He jokes that he attracts a few stares when he’s walking down the street, but he thinks it’s mostly curiosity. “If anyone asks me questions, I’m happy to talk!” His mataora was designed by tā moko artist Cy Mcleod, and took three and a half hours to complete.
Tumanako says that he had been thinking about a mataora since his graduation from the University of Waikato Law School in 2018, but that it was mostly an internal conversation with himself. “Am I the person that I want to be? Do I deserve it?”. In the end he decided that he may never reach that idealised end state, but while he’s working towards it, “my mataora will be with me on my journey, as I try to be the person who deserves to carry that taonga.”
Currently working for Annette Sykes and Co in Rotorua, Tumanako’s work is mostly with the Waitangi Tribunal, the criminal bar, and occasionally some Māori land issues. He says that he enjoys the Waitangi tribunal work “it’s probably the most familiar for me as a te reo speaker since I can speak te reo in court. A lot of the evidence that is referenced is either whakapapa or korero tuku iho – things that are handed down”. Tumanako says that the criminal courts can be quite an alien environment for Māori. “The justice system is still a different way of operating compared to what more Māori are used to. However, being able to use te reo Māori and draw on our own tikanga and kawa makes it a bit more comforting.”
Tumanako has also had long involvement in kapa haka as a performer and cultural ambassador with Te Mātārae i Ōrehu kapa haka. He says that kapa haka has been an awesome part of his life. “I used to perform when I was younger at kohanga and kura, even in nappies in front of the TV! I stopped for a bit at high school, I was at a school where it wasn’t really an option which made it difficult to continue performing.” Since moving to Rotorua he has joined back up kapa haka again. “Just to be immersed back in matauranga māori, learning more about our history and culture. It’s amazing, the spiritual aspect of it as well – it gives me another avenue to express myself.”
Tumanako says that growing up all he wanted to do was to become a professional rugby player. “That was my goal at high school. But I got to the end of my high school years and I probably wasn’t good enough. I had a few injuries and those kinds of things.” He’d always wanted to go to university, but didn’t know what to study. Meeting with esteemed Māori academic and senior law lecturer Matiu Dickson cemented his interest in legal study, and Tumanako says that the support that he received was critical in helping him to work his way through his degree. Current employer Annette Sykes has also been a trusted mentor. “I’ve gone from initially not knowing if practising law was for me, to being admitted to the bar in Nov 2020. The guidance and support she gives me is immense.”
He stresses that his own journey has been a product of the hard work that other people have done “My parents, my teachers, my friends – the people who’ve helped me get to where I am. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been given. He’s conscious of the contributions made by those who fought for the Māori language, for kohanga and kura kaupapa. “I’m a product of that. My old man would always say ‘a measure of a person is not what they achieve, but what they empower others to achieve’, and I’m just trying to add on whatever I can to contribute.”