Shirley Shepard is a Maori woman raised as a pakeha in a town of just three families.
Shirley was brought up with little to no knowledge of her Maori ancestry, the traditions, customs or language of her people.
Colleagues would refer to Shirley as Whaea, Maori for a mother figure.
The 64-year-old would nod politely but now admits she had no idea what it meant.
Spurred on by her son, Shirley eventually embraced her Maori-dom and enrolled in Te Reo classes at NMIT.
She has just completed her third year and on Saturday received her Certificate in Foundation Maori Studies in front of friends and family at Wakatu Marae.
Her language journey won’t stop after graduation as Shirley hopes to progress to the point she can converse fluently and confidently in Te Reo.
“Now that I have started, I will continue for as long as it takes.”
As part of the course, Shirley has also been learning how to research ancestry which she plans to do in order to connect with her iwi.
The course has opened up a new world for Shirley.
“I have met amazing people and gone to places in Nelson I didn’t even know existed. This is my first time to Wakatu Marae and I have lived here since 1979.”
Shirley says the tutors at NMIT are passionate and knowledgeable about passing on tikanga.
She encourages everyone, Maori or not, to learn Te Reo Maori.
“People should make an effort to learn the language because a lot of children do and you will find more and more young people able to speak it, and it is very hard to stand there and not know what’s being said.”