When Ta'atiti Ioane Tuupo was 13, he went to his older brother’s university graduation ceremony and had a photo taken of himself wearing his brother’s gown. He said, “One day I’ll wear my own gown.” And he did.
Hailing from Neiafu, Samoa, Ta'atiti Ioane Tuupo is a chief, or matai, of his village, and is formally known as Ta'atiti. He is a tulafale, an orator, or ‘talking chief’, of Neiafu and hails from many villages, including Sasiga, Vaimoso, Falelima, Gataivai, Apolima and Taga, to name a few.
Ta'atiti completed his University of Waikato degree, a conjoint Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (BA/LLB) in 2013, and says the experience of studying a double degree programme meant he learnt excellent time-management skills.
“I lived close to the university and had a fantastic support network. I worked really hard - there wasn’t a day I didn’t have a lecture or tutorial.”
Since graduating in 2014, Ta'atiti has been working for various government ministries as an advisor and in-house counsel, including the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Ministry of Health, and now as an associate counsel at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
For his Bachelor of Arts, Ta'atiti majored in Māori and Pacific Development, with a minor in philosophy. For his legal studies he chose not to specialise, but instead decided to get a good overview of many aspects of the law. He says that’s set him up well for the government jobs he’s had—advising on commercial aspects of the ministry, regulatory frameworks, and giving general public law advice. “I became pretty skilled at university at juggling several competing deadlines at once and it’s been a useful skill to have in all the ministries I’ve worked in,” he says.
At MFAT, Ta'atiti is leading the ministry’s compliance framework, which has meant a move away from BAU (business as usual), the day-to-day reactive legal work he’s been used to. Although his current role is a balance of long-term strategic focus on compliance and BAU, he’s enjoying the change and the challenge. “It’s more strategic, planning for the future, to establish what we hope in time will be better systems for BAU. It’s less reactive than what I’ve been doing previously,” he says.
Ta'atiti is named after his father, who suggested he go to the University of Waikato, even though the family was living in Auckland at the time. His father is a Methodist minister, and the church requires their ministers to move to new parishes every seven years. Hamilton was where the family of eight settled when they first came to New Zealand from Samoa when Ta'atiti was around seven years old. They moved to Auckland where he completed secondary school, and when university beckoned, his father encouraged Ta'atiti to go to Waikato, and return to where they’d started life in New Zealand. It would help him become more independent, his father said.
Ta'atiti’s Pacific heritage is important to him and at Waikato he joined and became vice-president of the Pacific Law Students Association, one of 16 Pacific student associations at the University. While each is slightly different, they all offer a place where students can find academic encouragement, peer networks, and cultural and social activities.
He has also had to learn to talk confidently about himself and his achievements. It’s not part of Samoan culture to talk yourself up, so it didn’t come easy, but he says it’s necessary, especially when applying for jobs.
So far, so good.